The Shadow Ring etched one of the more confounding and undefinable discographies in experimental subterranean waters through the 1990s and early 2000s. Their singular concerns began as a sort of no-fi, no-frills post-post-punk endeavor augmented with spoken word yarns delivered in a post-lobotomy-Mark E. Smith demeanor, while their final LP, I’m Some Songs, saw the trio ending their existence with the most outlandish and unsettling of swan songs, a record of eerie field recordings and found-noise churning bleakly beneath vocals played back at lumberingly sluggish speeds (I remember somebody remarking that the record sounded “wrong at any speed.”). After the group went their separate ways, member Graham Lambkin parlayed his fascination with tape process into an acclaimed solo career, with said exploration definitively traced back to the Ring’s last recordings. While Darren Harris of the Ring appears missing-in-action thus far, here we find the third of the trio, Tim Goss, delivering his second LP for his Call Back The Giants project (a duo with one Chloe Mutter), channeling the other piece of his former band’s persona. But while The Rising may etch his former project’s stark minimalism into something more pastoral and accessible, it proves no less richly dense and worthy of critical analysis.
Nearly identical variations of a piece entitled “Passage Of Arms” bookend the LP, beginning and ending the long-player with short surges of tranquility. These two tracks bring to mind many recent synth-based practitioners littering the drone landscape, but here these pieces possess a more contained sense of repetition, capturing proto-New Age sonics from the past at the point where they were yet to fall into the background. “Lay In Lines” follows a similar tenor, yet here the sound is stripped to a lone cascading synth line, not unlike Idea Fire Company’s explorations. It almost feels like a bit of uncomplicated Berlin School nostalgia, yet the track focuses so intently on the melody at hand that there’s a deceptive gravity at hand.
The medley of the title track and a piece known as “The Lizard” begins with sounds more aligned with its preceding pieces before something goes unsettlingly askew, a percolating synth line slowly being increasingly distorted and destroyed, eventually overtaken by obtuse field recordings and a muffled siren-like wail. Goss’ vocals, which fall in line with Harris’ distinctively detached monotone, make their first appearance here, the overall effect hinting toward an emanation of 1980s industrial rather than the 1970s German influences that are in vogue these days. It’s a bold and pleasing development, a bare-minimal take on cult acts like Pseudo Code perhaps. And as it shifts into “The Lizard’s” mutated soundtrack, the medley begins to stand out as the record’s obvious high point.
“Stranger Worlds” further explores the earliest motifs of the LP, here with Mutter providing wistful vocals that help craft a whimsically skewed take on the pop-song form. Possessing a certain eccentricity rarely explored even among bedroom pop’s outsider cliques, this starkly minimal, spare, and simple bit of melodicism is subtly pushed into such atypical pastures that the effect is one of profound bemusement.
The darker pastures of the title piece are further articulated on “Jungle Hilton,” which beings the second side paring subverted synth and found-sound textures that ebb into a spirit-laden flow of unsettled surrealism. The following “Whirl Wing,” an excursion of obscured spoken word lingering beneath beds of hissing electronics, keeps this particular momentum fluctuating, yet it soon gives way to “The Pharroh Man.” This track takes The Rising on a further spin into the project’s seemingly amorphous guise, this being a more compact take on industrial-laden dance fusion nicely augmented by Goss’ distant declarations of being the titular “Pharroh Man.”
Taking this unexpected genre experimentation even further, “Dust Rises,” joined here by sometime-member Rob Stewart, takes a synth-processed guitar sound into a competent emulation of Suicide/Chrome-inspired punk. Such a nugget could easily be mistaken for having floated around the early 80s as a private press 7-inch, the kind of delicious obscurity collectors normally salivate over. It may look to the past for its characterization, but as with the rest of The Rising, its attention to the meticulous details of its influences, as well as its unexpectedness, boost it above the typical morasses of nostalgia.
While The Rising is a bit more casual and playful than his previous band’s challenging output, it’s an unassuming, pleasant full-length that proves Goss and Mutter have much more to explore and unearth with their new project. With a keen ear for variety, one can expect future detours and surprises that may better the promises set forth here.
[Order direct from Kye by emailing Graham Lambkin here.]