Philip Jeck Cardinal

[Touch; 2015]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: ambience
Others: William Basinski, Fennesz, Graham Lambkin

I think that Philip Jeck’s music has always been about the cruelty of turntables, especially so on Cardinal. When I say cruelty, I’m talking about how turntablism confronts impossibility with the labored intensity of cataloging a library or climbing a mountain. Cardinal gets physical in that way, its songs made from pillars of chalcedony, formed from masses of darkness and brilliance, all of it moving slowly at the speed of hot fudge.

I listen to Cardinal and head into its deep cave and arrive in the middle of a record store or a farmhouse, a bunch of clues on my scent trail, just like that one scene in A Nightmare Before Christmas with those doors in the trees. You pick a song and dissolve into it, the crackles supporting your soul, the needle spinning the amplified dust. The world becomes sound, the sound becomes a world, the visible and invisible worlds bisect each other, and whatever worlds you live in rotate there too, inside the music, amplified like the wrinkles on a face, the yellowish tinge of a book, or the crinkles of a photograph. Time goes on, moving, and old age frightens the young. Using old material, as Jeck does here, summons ghosts. Ghosts come out of the turntables, ridiculously amorphous and violent. But then the music quiets down, suggesting the placidity of brooks and cathedrals, turning into vast slabs of vintage matter, processed beyond belief, almost unrecognizable, almost illusionary.

Cardinal blows vast. At over an hour long, it feels encyclopedic. It dumps us into a gorgeous trash heap or situates us in a long session of talking, a BBQ, a beach, a porch, a war, a magazine, a book made entirely of margin notes, like Nabokov’s Pale Fire. Patterns dissolve into ultraviolet light, into an overflowing blizzard of a face. Man-made cobwebs of sound — purple here, green there — leisure in an overgrown garden. Jeck’s remoteness — and also his presence — on his records makes us wonder why he does what he does. Why still do it, I wonder, when you could probably do the same thing easier in a digital setup? Why let the cruelty of the turntable punish you underneath its gargantuan accumulation? (I ask these questions rhetorically, of course.)

I can’t help but think that, even though I’ve never been to England, it feels like Jeck makes music to explain England to us; Jeck’s whole entire oeuvre might act on that impulse. But Cardinal doesn’t describe anything English in specific; it just mimics English ambience, that kind of small-town sluggishness that oftentimes comes coupled by the historical presence of architecture and over-played cultural idioms. Cardinal turns into big, warm ponds to swim across: invitations to remember history, invitations to depart history. It suggests short brilliant ponds, a bright flash of lightning on a barn’s roof on the horizon, then industrial nothingness, continually interrupted by doorbells and telephone poles. It suggests a music that investigates the slippages of remembering. I think it works, but at the same time, I think that we’ve all been here before.

Links: Philip Jeck - Touch

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