Peel Away the Ivy opens with a teasing snippet of a bending guitar and electronic crackle, clearly cueing up an eerie 1970s television drama set among standing stones, somewhere in England. This is no surprise: Peel Away the Ivy is release No.26 from Ghost Box, the label famed for creating the genre sometimes described as "hauntology" which luxuriates in early digital soundtracks and library music. But then the beat kicks in, and the track transmutes into a piece of early ‘80s funk pop, with a driving bass and a wailing keyboard solo. This is new territory from a new collaboration, The Pattern Forms.
One of the lead Ghost Box acts is The Advisory Circle, headed by Jon Brooks, responsible for forming and growing an instantly recognisable signature sound. In The Pattern Forms he joins forces with two-thirds of Friendly Fires, Ed Mcfarlane and Edd Gibson, who have brought their synth-based musical instincts with them. The result is an intriguing set of songs, soaked in atmosphere, groove and melancholy.
‘Black Rain’ is the most Friendly Fires track on the album, with persistent hints of early Scritti Politti meeting Afrika Bambaataa, alongside what could be music from re-purposed ATV indents. It is compelling stuff. ‘Daylight’ occupies solid Advisory Circle territory, with a nagging xylophone adding shimmer to an insistent drum machine. Vocals are high and harmonious, fading in and out of swirling, orchestral keyboards, intoning “Make it go away”. Nothing is held back. ‘Man And Machine’ is the epic its title suggests, a celebration of a Utopian social vision that died with the ‘70s. Although reflecting the synth precision of Kraftwerk’s ‘The Man Machine’, The Pattern Forms’ elegiac sound is submerged in layers of atmospherics.
‘Sparrowhawk’ is a synthesizer instrumental with breathy organ effects and bird flutters. It is library music recreated with unstoppable enthusiasm. ‘Polymer Dawn’ has an irresistible rubber-band synth rhythm, deep, echoing drums and chiming top notes. It sounds like a lot of fun to play. Final song, ‘First in an Innocent World’ builds to cymbal-washed climax, as The Pattern Forms drive through what sounds like a musical accompaniment to the dawning of time.
Ghost Box has a singular vision and its music is irresistible, shamelessly indulging in much-missed sounds, all beautifully presented by designer Julian House. The music it releases is identified as much with the label as with the band. The danger is that it could become a dead-end nostalgia trip; however enjoyable the result, the energy will eventually run out unless it is renewed. The Pattern Forms suggest this process is underway. New artists, with their own spin on the founding Ghost Box forms, are changing the music. Peel Away The Ivy, its title a conscious parody of The Advisory Circle’s back catalogue, could be the start of something new. Despite the deep awareness of recent musical history at the heart of this album, nothing else sounds this way.