Your wish is my command! Here's the review I posted on PPM.com back on Feb. 22nd.
Last year, from out of the blue came a DL of the live performance by John Foxx + The Maths of the music written to score a play of E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops.” One day it appeared with no warning and was available as a download. It was tasty stuff, but just a live EP of about 23 in length. Word then filtered out that The Maths were going to record the full score as their next album, and it was released on the 10th of this month. I had pre-ordered a copy from the Foxx webstore here, since they announced 2000 copies pressed and we don’t like disappointment. I loved the live EP, but this beast is decidedly different.
The album opens with an abstract instrumental, “The Ghost in The Machine.” It sounds like a few minutes of labored breathing, wind gusts, or perhaps waves crashing against the shore. It seemed like a very biological thing; not at all the stereotype of machines. This most appropriately sets the tone for this album, which will usually step away from the paths that the band have previously trod. While the third Maths album bore little resembance to the first, this one is something else again.
Only three songs cross over from the live EP: “Memory Oxide,” “Orphan Waltz,” and “The Other Mother.” All three hew closely to the live performance with “Memory Oxide” having the only Foxx vocals on the whole album, with the performer in full “Cathedral Oceans” mode. “Orphan Waltz” was a favorite of the earlier release, but these days I find that “The Other Mother” is taking up residence in my consciousness. Once I hear the plaintive, haunting melody, it sticks with me for hours. Now that I have had it stick so well with me, I was reminded of the tone of the music that Foxx had released a few years ago with Belbury Circle.
Some tracks here were very brief sonic sketches. “A Dark Illumination” seemed like a track from “Tiny Colour Movies,” but “Hive Frequency” was a much more unsettling piece that was the one of two songs here that actually had rhythm beds. The droning rhythms over rhythm box capably suggested a hive-mind with all melodic development driven in an endlessly looping structure. “The Iron Bible” was the soundtrack to a futuristic “Sermonette” broadcast. All simulated sentiment and empty calories.
The only other track with a beat was “Transworld Travelogue,” which it must be said, bore no resemblance to “Transworld Airwave” from the “Bunker Tapes” EP. The placidly paced track was somehow soothing but as I listened to it develop, I thought “why is this familiar?” It didn’t take me too long to figure it out. The sequenced eighth note loops hit very near the tempo of the intro to Ultravox’s “Western Promise,” and then at 1:40 the lead lines made their appearance and they are almost an identical patch to the leads on the earlier ‘Vox song! The meandering melody was decidedly similar. Foxx may have never heard the “Vienna” album, but I’d bet that Benge had. I wondered if this had occurred to him in the making of this track. Of course, “Western Promise” is a raging tiger of a tune, and the tone of this could not be more different as the contemplative vibe was so soothing and placid that surely no one [but me] would ever connect the two songs. Yet I just have.
“Genetic Hymnal” is the only other song here with vocals and a wordless Elizabeth Bernholz [Gazelle Twin] fills the cathedral like space with her eerie expression vocal, which barely sounds human. Actually, her voice echoes the synth patch I’d already mentioned on “Transworld Travelogue.” The track plays like the sincere shadow twin of the condescendingly fraudulent “The Iron Bible” earlier in the program. The program finished up with two of the earlier songs on “The Bunker Tapes” and one newer piece, “Vortex Logic.”
The program was only 40 minutes long but it actually seems faster when I listen to it straight through. Only a handful of tracks cross the four minute threshold, and while the first few plays felt unusually slight, I have found that the album keeps pulling me back into it. To the point where I want to listen to it constantly. As usual, Foxx is drawn to the ideas in the play source of nature overtaking technology but where the novella of “The Machine Stops” ends on a catastrophic note, it’s not surprising to hear Foxx ending the cycle of music on a spiritual and possibly exultant note. This album was a radical shift in the trajectory of John Foxx + The Maths, and I certainly hope that there will be more explorations following this one since I want to listen to nothing else right now.