When Tom McDowell isn’t composing eerie synthwave music as Dream Division, he is curating his independent label Library Of The Occult Records, which specializes in alternative, experimental electronic music or “sounds of the dark arts.” Throughout 2021, alongside various intriguing albums, the label has been releasing “a series of haunting cover versions by our favourite musicians, of classic themes and music from film and television” as limited edition, lathe cut singles. “Sounds Of The Unexpected” compiles these singles together.
Running from 1979 to the late 80’s “Tales Of The Unexpected” was an Anglia television series (mostly) based around Roald Dahl’s amusing and sinister short stories that always finished with a twist in the tale. This is the major inspiration behind “SOTU” from the title, cover artwork to the first single, from Dream Division.
A sample of Dahl mixed with dreamy synths on the opening track “Intro” is a statement of intent followed by the shows legendary theme tune, composed by Ronald Erle Grainer. Dream Division captures the sound perfectly, moving away from the slightly jazzy undertones to a synth sound, whilst still keeping the Latin sounding rhythm and adding more bass and a little distortion. It’s like listening to the filter called “childhood” you can apply to photos on your phone, it’s the same picture but seen through nostalgic, whimsical eyes.
From the soundtrack to the 1973 folk horror masterpiece The Wicker Man, Ivan The Tolerable (Oli Heffernan) covers “Gently Johnny.” The Wicker Man score was composed and arranged by Paul Giovanni and performed by Magnet, a group of student musicians, but also included members of the cast. It mixes traditional Scottish, Irish and English folk songs, Giovanni compositions, nursery rhymes and near psychedelic guitar music.
Amazingly the soundtrack was only first released in 1998. Ivan The Tolerable’s version of “Gently Johnny” is a darker version than Giovanni’s sweetly sung, knowing, ballad. It’s sung with a deep almost sinister delivery that’s wonderfully juxtaposed with the sweet harmonies of Claire Hargon on the chorus. The rhythm is heavier, hypnotic with an air of the world weary. A truly, inventive and lovingly curated version.
The 1979 television series “Noah’s Castle” was based on a book for young adults by John Rowe Townsend. When the economy has almost collapsed, rioting is common place and food is scarce, a family escapes to a large house in the countryside. As the situation deteriorates, the starving locals get suspicious and the family comes under threat.
The Heartwood Institute reimagines the “Noah’s Castle” theme. Moving away from the late 70s synth and drum machine sound into a familiar Heartwood evocative hauntronica soundtrack. Here driven by a bass drum with groggy, giddy synths surrounding the original main theme. The B side “Liberating Food” uses samples from the TV series and continues the wonderfully woozy atmosphere.
The delightfully named Garden Gate covers the 1970 theme tune to “Ace Of Wands” called “Tarot” which was composed by Andrew Bown. A children’s TV series about a magician with supernatural powers. “Tarot” is a much lighter, breezier theme, which admittedly touches upon mystical occult subject matter but is an upbeat, genial, electronic folk song. Warm, wistful, affable and dreamily sung with a surprisingly catchy chorus.
The final single finds Hawksmoor covering “The Boy From Space” backed with a Dub mix version. The Boy From Space was a Sci-fi story that was part of the BBC Look And Read series, covering reading for primary schools. Two children find a young boy from space and are almost instantly chased by an adult alien called The Thin Man, pretty scary stuff for children learning to read in primary classrooms.
It was on repeat throughout the 70’s and 80’s and featured some amazing electronic music and really was rather good, although definitely a bit frightening. Hawksmoor’s version is a magnificent love letter to the sound of the show with soaring synths, hazy pads and computing bleeps. Space-aged, other worldly, dreamy and fantastical.
Sounds Of The Unexpected is a love letter to library music and to an era of British television and film that was very creative and stimulated, in particular, young people’s imagination. Of course the songs all sound fantastic whether you watched any of the programs or not, but a little bit of the appeal here is dancing like the lady in the flames in title credits of Tales Of The Unexpected, as myself, sister and brothers used to do.
Highly recommended for fans of dark synth, hauntronica, experimental electronic music and horror folk, as well as anyone looking for a little bit of British Nostalgia.