AMN Reviews: Dave Ball & Jon Savage – Photosynthesis (2016; Cold Spring Records)

What we have here is a combination of 70’s and 80’s synth-heavy electronic music, the 90’s colder, sparser ambient, as well as field recordings. The amalgam thereof is a distinctive and compelling sound – retro without being derivative, modern without feeling unfamiliar.

Dave Ball founded the pop band Soft Cell in 1979.  On Photosynthesis, he teams with electronic musician Jon Savage for eight tracks that form an hour-long suite. Apropos to its title, the album brims with organic textures, perhaps due to use of analog instrumentation. As stated in the liner notes, “[s]itting in the garden surrounded by trees and plants on a sunny day, the idea of organisms using sunlight to synthesise nutrients from CO2 and water became an inspiration to us. This idea, juxtaposed with mankind’s destruction of the planet through pollution and war gave us the inspiration to compose this soundscape.”

The putative centerpiece of the album, a sixteen-minute track titled One Night in Helmand Province, covers both these yin and yang aspects. Sequencers provide sweeps, percolations, and effects, while the rhythm is driven by dark, shifting drones. Unintelligible voices fade in and out of the foreground, as do washes laden with static.

Both beautiful and menacing in tone, Photosynthesis, stakes its claim as an original work in a crowded field.