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Peter Hammill
A Black Box

Phil Kime:

Quite close in style to pH7 and, as a result, a little like a compilation as before. However, I feel this is the stronger of the two as the material stands alone very well. Opening with one of Hammill's rare successful solo upbeat tracks. The album has a slightly surreal feel to the harmonies and especially in the experimental undercurrent. Some of his most venomous delivery contributes to the appeal of this album. Jargon King is a difficult segmented collage with treated vocals which many people will find a little strange. I positively like this side of Hammill, rare though it is. The darker side of this album is anchored in Fogwalking which always reminds me of H.R. Giger's serious of fog monster pictures. A few choice brief harmonic passages bring out the latent fear. Magnificent. The bad dreams are dispelled by the multitracked guitar introduction to the glowing strains of The Spirit. Another successful upbeat track. In Slow Time originated as an analogue experiment appearing in another version on the tapes from which Loops and Reels was taken. Melancholy and dirge-like, the beautiful gloom of the album is maintained. The Wipe is a resurgence of the Jargon King experiment. Flight is the famously long track from Hammill's mid period and is a rare gem. "I always forget just how crazy things are" opens and you know the sort of ride you are due from that moment onwards. Many sections, often in startling juxtaposition abut in this piece which seems to thematically bring together much of the ambience of the album. At 20 minutes, this is almost half of the album in itself. Beginning with gentle piano and guitar, the tempo increases to the introduction of slightly unsubtle percussion. Electronic subject enters to a famously modal melody. Strange but compelling, always compelling. Some vocal gymnastics with a hard delivery. Hammill's trademark falling pronunciation is very apparent. "Nothing's that black and white" is repeated into the third identifiable mood of the piece: a gentle, seductive unique feeling of Hammill's particular devising. Singing in harmony with himself, as usual. Gentler still until the second coming of the percussion with a driving platform leading into the penultimate subject "Wait for a tactical move". Fourteen minutes sees a respite and the final spurt of violence: "I say nothing is nothing!" followed by a Pawn Hearts piano line and wild guitar. Calm to end with fine melody. A fitting end to a fine album.

© 1996 Phil Kime

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