AMN Reviews: Various Artists – Hauntology In UK (2022; Eighth Tower Records)

Hauntology is a concept that is hard to nail down. In short, it is a philosophical notion that aspects of the past continue to influence – haunt – the present. As a corollary, hauntology contemplates “lost futures” in which new ideas failed to occur due to socioeconomic forces. British cultural theorist and writer Mark Fisher applied these themes to music, observing that artists with few resources tend to eschew cultural innovation in favor of continuously reapplying the structures and sounds of the past.

In practice, music that could be placed in the hauntology bucket is all over the place in terms of style. But it has a common thread in how it invokes or samples older recordings (e.g., from the 1960s and 1970s) in a lo-fi and ghostly fashion to remind the listener of lost memories as well as lost timelines of futures that never happened.

This compilation of British artists approaches hauntology from a decided electronic point of view. Put out by dark ambient / experimental label Eighth Tower Records as a tribute to Fisher, one does not need to be aware of the philosophy behind the recordings to enjoy them (though I will admit that even a brief immersion adds a layer of meaning to these pieces). Contributing artists include Rapoon & Sonologyst and Howlround each providing a pair of tracks, as well as Grey Frequency, Pascal Savy, Michael Bonaventure, Foreseer, and Dead Space Chamber Music.

Thematically, Hauntology In UK holds together quite well. The majority of the album comprises synth-driven soundscapes populated by a broad array of samples. The latter include static, crackling, and vocal elements.

The pairing of Rapoon (Robin Storey) and Sonologyst (Raffaele Pezzella) employs soft yet ominous drones accompanied by foreground effects that border on the percussive or actually are percussive in an unstructured fashion. Atmospheric voices populate parts of the background. The contributions of Howlround (Robin the Fog) are short but spacious and pulsating, evoking alien landscapes.

In contrast, Dead Space Chamber Music provides processed acoustic percussion accompanied by sung vocals. The song is in a folk / Medieval style, which makes this track unlike any other in the set. Another standout is Michael Bonaenture’s Mavisbank, which combines birdsong with sweeping synth and drones. This evolves into repetitive and layered percussive patterns.

Rounding things out is a relatively airy piece from Foreseer, static and sequenced rhythms from Grey Frequency, and Pascal Savy’s rumbling and breathy After Dark.

Hauntology In UK is yet another well-produced compilation from Eighth Tower Records. The title implies ghostliness, and that aspect is certainly present. But a stronger musical theme is that of futurism from a past perspective, with many of the tracks evoking retro-cinematic science fiction. Indeed, the echoing nature of many of these pieces can be seen to represent how the past casts numerous shadows of itself into the present and future. Regardless, fans of unconventional electronic music or dark ambient will find much to like here. Highly recommended.