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Secret Circuit – Nebula Sphynx review

Even in a place as densely populated with tastemakers as New York City, Tim Sweeney stands out. Through his immaculate weekly Beats In Space radio show, Sweeney has proved time and time again that he not only has the nose for a good tune, but he’s not afraid to search the stranger fringes of electronic music for inspiration. Given this impeccable track record, it was probably inevitable that he would turn his hand to running a label at some point. It was always likely, too, that the label would release bold and forthright music that doesn’t fit into any neat pigeonholes.

The first release on Beats In Space Records, the decidedly wonky, near cosmic synth-out Parfait Tirage by Paradis, certainly fits that remit. The same can be said of this second 12” on Sweeney’s fledgling imprint. Featuring two tracks by Laughing Light of Plenty man Edward Ruscha, Nebula Sphynx is a weirdly beguiling record that eschews the familiar and comfortable in favour of stranger, more alluring sounds.

The title track itself sets the tone. While its quiet, bleeping opening melodies (very reminiscent of 020’s early-90s cut “Midnight In Europe”) suggest what follows will be ethereal rather than intense, it quickly changes mood. Razor-sharp, low register synthesizer arpeggios do battle with vintage drum machine beats, hypnotic melodies and the sort of spiraling electronic effects that sound like they’ve been beamed down from some far-off star. As it progresses, these melodies and effects take over, shepherding a robotic, brain-melting concoction towards a supernova-like climax. If the earth is ever overrun by robotic chimps wielding weapons fashioned from circuit boards and faux oak effect keyboards, we can expect more music like this.

Flipside “Parascopic Rope” takes a more measured – if equally out-there – approach. Laden with dub effects and apocalyptic electronic noises, it rises and falls like some kind of synthesized metallic tide. While its woozy synth melodies are reminiscent of Throbbing Gristle man Chris Carter (and specifically his thrilling Mondo-Beat album), the clanking, dubwise percussion and Radiophonic Workshop effects scream Emperor Machine. Yet this is no copy, and there’s an aggression and intoxicating oddness to the whole thing that gives “Parasitic Rope” a rougher, more spaced-out feel than even Andrew Meecham’s most wild compositions. This isn’t so much the music of robotic, circuit board-loving monkeys, but rather unlikely aliens made out of nails, vintage IBM computers and slippery green pus. If the BBC’s 21st century Doctor Who revival boasted music like this, the world would be a much better place.

Matt Anniss


Tracklisting:

1. Nebula Sphynx
2. Parascopic Rope