In a recent interview, Erol Alkan celebrated the fact that he has never ticked off career milestones in the correct order or subscribed to a particular script. His career as a DJ and producer has gone from strength to strength, even when eclecticism became a dirty word, precisely because of his canny selection skills, joining the dots joyfully between 90’s pre-Walkmen also-rans Jonathan Fire*Eater, 60’s electronic prog pioneers White Noise, and living house legend Paul Woolfoord in one set. Through it all was a deep love of psychedelica, of the potential of music to be as weird as it is life-affirming. The influence can be felt in even his most club-ready tunes, his remix of Connan Mockasin’s ‘Forever Dolphin Love’ in particular practically chomping at the bit to kick off a new Summer of Love.
It’s this love that kickstarted his musical partnership with Richard Norris, best known as a member of house act The Grid, a man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of psychedelic music of all stripes. Like many of the best acts of the period, The Grid approached dance music with a cheeky irreverence while still creating moments of transcending beauty, and Norris has stated that the mission plan for his entire career is to place the sonic values of psychedelica into dance music as fully as possible.
Under the name Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve, the duo have been responsible for mind-expanding DJ sets, adventurous mashups, and a series of “re-animations” that siphon contemporary acts into a sonic world all their own. Their compilation of remixes from 2009 remains an essential; with the recreation of Midlake’s ‘Roscoe’ in particular being the perfect argument against anyone who tries to claim that remixes cannot be an artform. Also to their credit is that they are not staid nostalgists: their tracks sound as modern and timeless as anything else, refusing to use influence as an unmovable equation.
All of which is a long preamble to introduce The Soft Bounce, the duo’s first studio album, the first album Alkan was been involved in outside the role of producer, and a decade in the making. In a break from tradition, the album was created in the style of a full-on rock band rather than electronic producers (no coincidence the cover of the album is a set of drums and guitars), and there is only one sample over the course of the disc, a bark in ‘Iron Age’ which in typical fashion is from a single so rare they couldn’t find whoever owned the rights. It doesn’t have much room to guide the song, as a snarling guitar riff and vocals from Mystery Jets’ Blaine Harrison announcing “Pangaea will reappear” bolster it. ‘Diagram Girl’, on the other hand, is a delightfully bizarre pop song, featuring two different Hannah Peel vocals, one pitch-shifted into an androgynous storyteller and a wordless coo lifting the chorus into the kind of moment that would throw hands up in the hair were the band a live act.
As you can probably guess from the descriptions of these two songs, and the members’ reputations of being gluttonous cross-disciplinarians, the eleven tracks here sound as if eleven different artists could have made them. ‘Tomorrow, Forever’ is a lifting drone piece devoid of gimmick, wiping the slate clean from the poppy, song-based first half into Side B’s rhythmic excursions, kicking off with the title track’s effervescent and tribal percussion from Leo Taylor. ‘Door To Tomorrow’, featuring vocals from Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci mastermind Euros Child will delight any fan and future-fan of the under-appreciated Welsh act, combining folk, psych and chamber pop and a strong sense of McCartney-style romanticism.
‘Third Mynd’ began as a mid-album interlude, but was upgraded to closer after the addition of spoken word passages read by the cultural critic Jon Savage on the feeling of leaving one’s body and feeling as though that he is finally seeing the world as it should be. He could be talking about drugs, or the potential of music such as this to assemble a new world where even the sound of a passing car can have an epiphanic effect. It’s idealistic, ever so slightly cheesy, and hazy with something that smacks of mescaline, but that is the point. The Soft Bounce is one more shining achievement in the work of two men who already possess enviable careers. It may not kick off a new summer of love, but as techno and pop music for example become more willing to create music to envelop rather than puncture, its message of influence may well be strongly felt.