Album review: TOMAGA – ‘INTIMATE IMMENSITY’: a final testament in darkwave from Tom Relleen

TOM RELLEEN was a cornerstone of London’s experimental/electronic music scene. Co-founder of Phonica Records, promoter and prolific musician, he was a hub around which creativity revolved. Forming Tomaga with percussionist Valentina Magaletti in 2013, the duo went on to release six expansive albums as well as boundary-pushing collaborative records with Pierre Bastien and Neil Tolliday.

Tragically Relleen died in August 2020 at the age of 42 having been diagnosed with stomach cancer in March that year. INTIMATE IMMENSITY therefore stands as the last release from this outstanding artistic partnership, realised over a two-year period but only completed shortly before Tom’s death. As Magaletti remembers: “We rushed to master the album in his final days because the release was so important to him.”

So the album, available from March 26th on Hands in the Dark, arrives with an emotional resonance that permeates through the flourishing soundscapes on offer. Each track on INTIMATE IMMENSITY is steeped in rhythm and atmosphere, crafted carefully from layers of interwoven minimalism and earthy Magaletti beats.

The opener, “Idioma”, introduces the album’s components with a reverberating conversation between pattering tongue drums and swelling layers of Buchla synth phrases that build in urgency before their sudden deflation. The intuitive musical dialogue between the duo then gets tested further during the gossiping instrumentation of “Mompfie Has To Pay”. Rooted around an animated percussive cycle, a single-beat note and grumbling bass, occasional light fluttering melodies pop around the space. As the tune skips along, the elements merge so supplely that you are unconsciously shifted to a place of lilting palms and dreamy skies.

Three tracks in and INTIMATE IMMENSITY starts to scratch at its relative calm. The North African flavours of “The Snake” slides between the playful and the dangerous, in which ethno-jazz stylings unwind to a restless bumping skank. As Magaletti’s drumming takes on an industrial edge, the walls of electronica cast shadows of Trickyesque bleakness while Tom Relleen’s deft touch shows that even the solitary note can have an immense impact in the right context.

Such shades of darker intensity go on to punctuate the whole record. “Non Sia Mia” (or ‘Heaven Forbid’) imagines music from some internal underworld. While the processional drums pound, fluted notes raise the tension all the way to an extraordinary closing section in which the stripped back rhythms stutter in a dub-informed breakdown.

Preceding these terrors, “King Of Naples” draws majestically on similar sound rituals, matching distorted, descendant strings to a robotic tempo that suddenly breaks into a minimal techno manifesto. “British Wildlife” also thrives on repetition with the steamy, compressed clatter of dynamic machine music, whereas “Very Never (My Mind Extends)” conjures less tangible fears through a film-noir soundtrack haunted by the ethereal voice of Cathy Lucas from Vanishing Twin.

It’s a sign of the breadth of Tomaga’s musical vocabulary and imagination that INTIMATE IMMENSITY manages to deftly avoid the oppressive weight often lurking within the experimental and darkwave scenes. The duo can capture the natural and pastoral in the glistening ambience of “Reverie For Houseplants” and grasp the power of the crescendo to push “More Flowers” to its sonic edge.

But it’s on the closing title track that they break through the emotional barriers that electronic music can often try to avoid. Everything in this final cut is so perfectly realised, from the opening, shuffling funk to the depths of the tectonic bass plates to the gorgeous swoon of Agathe Max’s massed strings. Heartfelt and euphoric, it closes Tomaga’s journey with hope and positivity and leaves us listeners with so much more than a record – it is a testament.

TOMAGA’S INTIMATE IMMENSITY is out today digitally – the vinyl has currently sold out – and may be purchased over at Bandcamp.

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