Words: Mike Stanton // @DepartmentEss
Hailing from that part of the UK where the skies are usually ashen grey and the air pulses with rain, Phono Ghosts pierces the gloom by conjuring widescreen, technicolour vistas through the art of sound and tape manipulation, cut-up sample collages and bass-heavy grooves. You see, Neil Scrivin, to give him his earthbound name, resides in Blackpool in the northwest of England, and is part of a visionary musical triumvirate from that area including VHS Head and White Mask, and like his fellow producers, Phono Ghosts inhabits a world of retro and nostalgia-infused warped-funk, synth-pop, and hauntology.
Higher resolution pop than Com Truise’s woozy, opaque compositions, Phono Ghosts creates a bright, wide-eyed and summery synth-funk with thumping bass swerves and dreamy electronic textures. Previous albums, Chrome Position, Solar Dream Reel and Photons in Fashion have all dealt in curved-funk, disco, synthwave and, circuit-bent samples. These were a triumph of glitch-edged production and inventiveness, evoking experimental artists such as the aforementioned VHS Head, Jacob 2-2 and, 80’s sample legends The Art of Noise.
On Warm Pad, Sharp Stab (out on Fonolith), the mood has changed, softened and, dare I say it, become more soulful. The edges are rounder and the screen has a smoother, matt finish, giving the album a deeper, warmer embrace.
Prime 3-D kicks things off with a beating synth-throb, and Jan Hammer-esque synth trills, cutting through the heady atmosphere like lightening across storm clouds. It is instantly alluring and really pulls your ear in closer. The brilliantly titled L’amour and Her Hot-Wired Hands, shows us how Phono Ghosts has evolved his sound; languid and swirling with subtly tugging beats and the amorphous haze of ambience.
A Glow in the Night is intricate and sweeping, all dreamy synth textures and lovely bubbling bass. Only Us could be a mid-eighties soul track; think George Duke or Don Blackman at their silkiest, elegantly merging styles and tripping dimensions into new waves of smooth. The bass is elastic and languid, and melodies purr contentedly.
The Gate of the Glittering Gene is a nod to previous releases but slowed right down and boy does it work. It’s as if everything is tumbling in on itself, melding and swirling, as ghostly voices fold into haunting synths. There’s space to breath, to stretch, and to drift.
81 Love again moves into 80’s soul territory with a groove Alexander O’Neil would kill for. The moody beauty of Tears Over Chroma, with its expansive terrain of lush melodies, atmospheres, and beats closes the album perfectly, leaving a shimmering after-glow.
Warm Pad, Sharp Stab is an album of space and slow-moving funk. Phono Ghosts has created a pace and groove that seems to mirror the bio-rhythmic pulse of the listener, it locks itself in and induces a mindful, meditative state. There are no jagged edges here, it is all curved and rounded with ice-melting grooves and quarter speed downtempo. In Warm Pad, Sharp Stab, Phono Ghosts has summoned spirits of slowly coiling wooziness, allowing his synths to twist and arc around their fuzzed-out edges. It’s a triumph.
Warm Pad, Sharp Stab is out now on Fonolith.