YOU ALMOST certainly know J. Willgoose as one of the bespectacled whizzkids behind the ever-brilliant Public Service Broadcasting.
But now he’s decided to invest in a little extra-curricular activity away from his six-string anchorman role in the nation’s favourite broadcaster, and has announced a solo album for Play It Again Sam in the guise of Late Night Final, A Wonderful Hope.
And as with many so records in this freakishly bleak year, the impetus came from the viral upheaval, as Willgoose recounts.
“We were working on the next Public Service Broadcasting album when the restrictions hit,” he says.
“All of our equipment was stuck in a different country and we were unable to meet up.
“I’ve always wanted to explore a more meditative sound, inspired by Brian Eno, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream and KLF’s seminal Chill Out. This felt like the perfect opportunity.”
Willgoose also explores theories of random music generation as well as the human capacity for hope, he says: “We will find our way back to a world in which live music will happen again; but I’m less optimistic in person than I am on record.
“Music allows me to express hopes I find difficult to acknowledge in everyday life.
“I made this whole album picturing a dance tent at 4am or a room late at night, full of people, movement and warmth and all the joy that that can bring. It feels like I was sending signals out into space.”
And here we have it. From the audiovisual, in terms of nomenclature, to the world of the newspaper: the late night final. Happily, it’s also quite the thing for a late night, as we shall see; four tracks clocking in at 45 minutes, adrift on a tide of very humanist electronic bliss.
The opener is the deep atmospheres of “Thank You”, which came out as a single not so many weeks back with an accompanying swirling, impressionistic visuals to take you deeper; we’ve embedded it down below, where the words run out.
Using the happy accident that so often leads one down a new creative path, the track hooks on a sample from a company response accidentally triggered when using a new loop pedal: the mantric ‘thank you’ that spirals through the electronic bliss-space of the track. That sample is bent and sheared out of shape as a little percussive chug during the slowly unfolding layers of the opening; and oh so slowly it builds, a little percussive chitter here, a slow bell pattern there, another warming synth tone over there; it’s gloriously ambient with a necessary human touch. Willgoose might well reference Tangerine Dream, and that’s there in the synth chatter; but think also the pristine beauty of Global Communication (and how suddenly of a moment again does 76:14 sound?), of Delia Gonzalez and Gavin Russom’s Days Of Mars. At about the ten-minute mark the track does that very Public Service Broadcasting thing of totally shifting up the gears, swelling, inexorably, unstoppably, as yet more layers of harmony and drone fly into the formation.
The title track starts with an eerie-evocative microtonal waver, gains aquatic depths of harmony. “I feel like things will improve … that’s a wonderful hope” is the arcane vocal sample here, lending a Race For Space-like gravity. It has the same swirling and ultra-effective chattering as the opener, threaded with a slightly tougher percussive shearing , which would seem to be the sound of Willgoose’s young child’s rattle, masked and morphed, employed as a very domestic and also very strong musical tool. The propulsion swiftly drops away, leaving to you to gently fall through a technicolour space, muscly gnarls of thrumming synth playing as the track builds into this searing and grandiose thing, the sorta thing you need to have on the cans as you watch your first ever Earthrise. Kinda thing. Marvellously transporting.
Cardiff-based ambisonic artist Teddy Hunter collaborates on “The Human Touch”, in which two distinct aesthetic spheres seem to combine: more glitchy textures, placed to aural perfection to widen and deepen the mix, chatter away above the more distant liquid of ambient purity that gradually shifts closer. It’s a deep centrepiece, the track you can only come to after previous levels of sonic initiation. It has a distant ancestor, I suspect, in The Orb’s “The Blue Room”, the way the pulsing pattern is so cleverly constructed. Teddy appears as a siren of the blissful, as if Julianna Barwick was around recording for Rising High or someone back in the day. Again there’s that sudden dialling up of the experience that you absolutely need, will be one day be absolutely immaculate to hear among random crowds under a night sky, deliciously sharper edges of sound abrading and refreshing you all at once like a cold ginger ale.
The closing track of the quartet (in current thinking, four tracks and 40 minutes seems to qualify as a mini-album in electronic circles, though plenty of bang is to be had for that slightly reduced buck) is “Slow Release”, built from more mournful intervals and the perennially evocative sound of a playground in the near distance. It has more acid in its DNA, more squelch, and a top melody line enacted on a synth that’s quite likely escaped from some shelved BBC children’s sci-fi, circa 1973. It has a little chill in its beauty, like the shadows of a pine forest at winter dusk.
Late Night Final’s A Wonderful Hope isn’t groundbreaking, exactly, in the way your favourite destination curry house isn’t groundbreaking, exactly, either; but in the very same way as that restaurant, it’s what you crave and when you’ve had it, it hits every spot. It’s a beautiful treat for the soul and the senses and wholly life-affirming.
It’s pretty much exactly how you’d imagine a Public Service Broadcasting record to be, should they take a swerve for the astral; and that is more than enough to keep your ears busy and your mind safe through to the other side of all this. Then we can get them him to play live in a woods somewhere at dusk, and life will be completely lovely again.
Late Night Final’s A Wonderful Hope will be released by Play It Again Sam on mp3, CD, trad black vinyl and limited yellow vinyl on December 11th; pre-order your copy here.