A new album by All India Radio was released on April 15th. The band has been around since the year 2000 and has produced more than a dozen albums. Having detected signs of well-crafted retro-electronica, I was pretty sure I’d enjoy The Slow Light, and so it proved.
It is an album of two distinct halves, a languorous ‘blueshift’ A-side and the more energised and highly cinematic ‘redshift’ B-side.
1. Like a Wish You Were Here out-take beamed into the future, ‘Blueshift’ has sparse, treated guitar that adds a wistful beauty to this all-too-brief introduction.
2. Muted tribal percussion gives dreamy momentum to the echoey reverie of ‘Dark star’. Watch/Listen here.
3. ’Can you hear the sound’. The drum sound here is subdued techno, under waves of filmy synths and a breathy vocal from Selena Cross. Kind of Cocteau Twins in space.
4. The title track has a delicate early morning radiance, produced by celestial synths over a languid beat.
5. Electric piano tones open ‘Sunburst’ with effortless tension. The acoustic guitar and echoing female voice bring a crepuscular beauty to a piece that, for all the energy of its title, could easily be renamed ‘Sunset’. Coupled with the previous piece, there is a dawn-to-dusk feel that brings side one to an easeful close.
Did someone slip something hallucinogenic into my drink? The opening piece seeds a spacey film-noir feel. I’m seeing Duck Dogers doing his best Sam Spade.
The camera picks out a squat figure with wide shoes pausing outside teleport control. Adjusting a rust-brown fedora to shade a nose so broad and flat it could shovel sand, he glances at his digital wrist-screen, then grunts as he picks up a battered briefcase and trudges towards the Port Bar. Doesn’t matter how many transit lounges you visit, all these bars look the same.
[CUE: ‘Galaxy of light’]
Except this shabby dive has a diamond. A breathtaking creature sits on her own at a window table. Motionless under the post-moon starlight drifting through the magniglass, she could be Eltanian marble. But no, she is alive. He watches her shoulders arch as she lifts a liquorflute to ivory lips. Swan’s neck sinuous and pale as ether.
Throwing back his shot, he rolls off the stool and exits.
Padding along the lakeside path, a small figure dwarfed by towers to his left as they slowly differentiate from the shadows, he notices neither the gun-grey polysteel of the buildings nor the purple phosphorescence creating mandelbrot dances on the water. All he feels is the ever-increasing weight of the briefcase. How could an ancient digidisc weigh as much as this planet?
The cough of a powerful engine disturbs his internal orbit. He looks up. There is the private jetty, just as expected. Moored to it, a sleek dark pleasure craft. A hooded figure in the bow indicates he should board. As he sinks into the plush couch across the stern, the boat accelerates away from the shore, carving deep blue ripples in the tissues of the dawn. The weight from the briefcase seems to have entered his chest, unmoved by the exhilaration of the ride.
Engines die, the boat coasts to a low stone wharf. An intake of breath. It is the woman from the bar, motionless on the grey platform, almost luminescent. She extends her hand. Not to him, but for his baggage.
[CUE: ‘The Embers’]
As he sinks through the darkening waters, arms tight bound at his sides, he replays the smile as she turned away. He feels the arms close around him; not hers, not in embrace, but to imprison. The water of the lake is bitter, metallic. He wishes he had webbed feet.
Vinyl Connection spoke to Martin Kennedy about the new album.
Congratulations on the new album, Martin. There’s a positive buzz around The Slow Light. Are you doing lots of press and promotional activities?
Yes I’m doing lots of promotion. I’ve actually hired people to do it, mostly in the USA this time as I can really only afford promotion in one country and I have to go with the country that has the most bang for buck, to put it bluntly. It’s so expensive; if I was paying for PR people in both countries I’d be wiping out any chance of recouping costs for years ahead!
Labels are vague and often unsatisfying things, yet people love a few words to get a sense of music less familiar to them. For All India Radio, I’ve read ‘Electronic’, ‘Chill-core’, ‘ambient techno’, ‘spacey downtempo music’… Any of these you’d want to endorse? Or some other indicators?
I’ve used some of those phrases in the press material, but most of the labels came from reviews of previous albums. I figure if the press are using them, then they’re good enough for me. I’m always stumped when people ask me to describe the music, so I pull out a few of those descriptors and everyone is happy! I used to call the music lo-fi ambient… that’s what it was in the beginning, sort of.
There is nothing ‘low-fi’ about the new album. The sound is excellent. All digital? Home or studio?
Yes, the recording medium is all digital. But that’s pretty standard these days. I record in my home studio which is a fancy way of saying the ‘spare bedroom’ haha! It works for me though. I’ve recorded just about every album in ‘spare bedrooms’ except Red Shadow Landing which was a ‘proper’ studio production.
Could you say a little about your instruments/sound production for this album?
I produced the whole thing myself… as I usually do. I keep thinking one day I’d like to hand over mixing duties to someone else, but I never do. Don’t want to lose control of my baby. The electronic elements on the album are drums (although some are samples of analog recorded drum kits), synths and some bass. The analog elements are guitars, bass, percussion, all played by me, and the vocals. I love software instruments but I’m careful not to go overboard using them.
The effects, all the reverbs, delays, and modulating effects are mostly plugins from a particular company, ValhallaDSP, which is really just one guy. They are a revelation (not an endorsement per se, I’m just genuinely blown away by them). Nothing comes close to the spacey sounds I can get from them. Perfect for my music.
Since the dawn of the century, All India Radio has produced an impressive body of work. What are your sources of inspiration?
My formula is 70% drive + 30% inspiration = output. If I have a massive urge to create (which is most of the time, luckily) I only need a little bit of inspiration to start me going and then I’m off and running. To illustrate, back in 1998 the first album ‘The Inevitable’ began with an incredible urge to create something new, driven by the need to do something radically different from the previous ten years I’d spent playing in an indie rock band. The inspiration was a tape of lo-fi Indian street soundscapes.
What about The Slow Light? Any particular catalysts or moods you were exploring?
The inspiration for The Slow Light was space, in particular, space and science fiction art – themes I’ve been blogging about for several years. Also exploring ambience and the space between the notes, and distortion through big reverbs. The drive was to do something solo – very different from the previous album which was a band effort and got a bit out of control with lots of instrumentation, strings etc. As good as that Red Shadow Landing was, I felt overwhelmed by it. The Slow Light was just me taking my time, keeping it minimal.
The cover art by Victor Atkins is beautifully complementary to this hypnotic music. And to be mentioned in the same breath as Miles Davis’ Miles in the Sky isn’t so bad. Is the album cover new work or something that was already in existence? How did you come to connect with Mr Atkins and his art?
I’ve always liked Victor Aktins Miles Davis album cover, its one of my favourites. I wondered if he was still active, and to be honest, whether he was even still alive. So I googled him and sure enough he was alive and well and producing art in the USA. He hadn’t done any album covers for decades and he agreed to do the cover for The Slow Light. I was upfront with him and said how much I like the Miles in the Sky cover and could he do something similar? He graciously said ‘Yes’. It felt quite surreal connecting with this artist from the 1960s and convincing him to create new art for me!
My pretty blue vinyl LP came with a welcome CD of the album plus a download code. You’ve thoughtfully covered every consumer preference there. But what is your favoured medium?
Yes, it was the record label’s idea to combine all three formats into one package. I think it’s a great idea. My favourite mediums are vinyl and digital. I must be honest and say that it was once the CD. Luckily I resisted selling my vinyl but I didn’t play them for many years. Then, in the late 1990s when the vinyl thing started up again, I got a new turntable. I don’t like to get into discussions of the whole digital vs analog thing as I honestly cannot tell the difference. By the time the music – whether from vinyl, CD, or mp3 – goes through the circuitry down the wire into my so-so speakers, through the air and vibrating through the floorboard into my body and ears it all sounds the same to my poor old ears.
The vocal colours add an ethereal beauty to several of the pieces on The Slow Light. Did you write with your singers in mind? Do you sing yourself?
For those songs I wrote the songs as instrumentals and then later thought vocals would suit. That’s the way it usually works. I do sing, not very well, but adequate for backing vocals.
Wired referred to ‘narcotic musical textures’ and this certainly seems to apply to the first side. The second side has some faster rhythms and a sense of forward movement. Would you care to comment?
I have a soft spot for dance music, but old school and not necessarily the ‘dance’ genre. I love 1970s disco and the electronic stuff of Giorgio Moroder. Even the faster moments of Jean-Michel Jarre and early 1980s Simple Minds. That’s the mood I was trying to capture in the track ‘Time’.
As a fan of electronic music in all its forms from early Tangerine Dream via The Orb to Boards of Canada, I have to ask, what electronic artists captured your imagination in your formative years? What music are you enjoying at present?
Apart from the previously mentioned Moroder, Jarre and Simple Minds let me add: Kraftwerk, New Order, Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream, DJ Shadow, Robert Fripp, Pink Floyd (not electronic, but biggest influence ever). Mostly old school. I don’t listen to anything new any more.
Is Perez Hilton a sibling of Paris? Why. Does. He. Talk. Like. This?
Haha! I think he is of that family and I. Don’t. know. Why. He. Talks. Like. That. Perhaps. For Dramatic. Effect! …But I’m glad he did in this particular instance.
You’ve done lots of soundtrack work and there is a definite cinematic feel to the second side of The Slow Light. Are soundtracks an area you want to pursue further? Any scores for feature movies on the event horizon?
No films scores on the horizon, but I’d put my hand up if one came along. A lot of my music used in film and TV were existing songs and pieces, which makes life a lot easier. The last one was The Rare Earth (2014), a very cerebral movie which used existing songs plus some new material scored for it. The way the director mixed them together was brilliant.
What about live performance? Any plans for touring the new album?
No live performances. All India Radio as a band haven’t played together since 2012. I’ve been having a shot at being solo again, but I’ll never say never. Now isn’t the time though. My old indie rock band – mentioned in a previous question as one of the reasons for starting All India Radio – is getting back together for an album and a show or two. First album in twenty years. It’s funny how things go around. [Ed: That’s Pray TV, more here]
Anything else you wish I’d asked?
No but I’m glad you didn’t ask where I got the name All India Radio. I’ve had so many emails and social media comments over the years from Indian folks asking me why I’m using the name of their national broadcaster. I’m sure they expect an interesting story as an answer but all I can offer them is a lame “At the time it sounded like a good name for a band…”
It does sound like a good name for a band, both familiar and exotic. Which is rather an apt description for the new album.
Thanks a lot for speaking to Vinyl Connection.