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Despite the fact that Drew McDowall has been releasing records since the early 80’s, ‘Unnatural Channel’ is only his second solo album. For the uninitiated, he’s stepped through the Psychic TV revolving door, was an official member of Coil during the mid-90’s and is also half of the somewhat under the radar/underrated duo Compound Eye alongside Tres Warren of Psychic Ills. It wasn’t until 2015 that he stepped out as a solo artist proper (not counting a few tracks as Screwface) with his well received and pretty great album ‘Collapse’ on Dais. Now he returns to the label with his second offering - continuing in the spirit of his contributions to Coil.
McDowall is no stranger to modular synthesizers - he was part of Coil side project Time Machines back in 1998 when they created a modern drone classic. In that work, as otherworldly and transcendent as it is - you’re fully aware that you’re inevitably listening to synthesizers, whereas with this work it’s not so explicit. Although I’m pretty sure he’s twiddling pots and getting tangled in patch cables, this record sounds more meticulously crafted, processed and edited than your average modular synth album. Whatever tools he’s used, he’s created a brilliantly vivid futuristic soundworld, one that from the opening seconds takes us straight into a ghostly, futuristic dreamworld. For sure it’s a pretty dark record but in the sense it’s more mysterious than foreboding. From beginning to end, it’s something like stepping inside a science fiction film, where machines with artificial intelligence walk among us. There’s a gripping sense of tension throughout, with a palette of pulsating electronics that feel constantly in a state of flux, morphing and reverberating, lots of clanging metal, bits of steely percussion and processed voices all come together with dynamic arrangements that eschew the more loop based format often used with such sounds. Yet McDowall never veers into needless modular synth noodling, crafting his tracks with expertly realised vision.
Aside from the legions of Coil fans that will buy this on sight, I recommend anyone that digs futuristic electronic music, dark ambient, industrial, techno etc. to get stuck into this. It doesn’t fit neatly into any of the above and could be just the ticket for the industrial techno party comedown.
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- Unnatural Channel by Drew McDowall
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