Glitch & paste electronic lovely auto-good
Handing over the mic to artists/musicians who break down their new albums track by track/share the thought process behind the creation. Today we’ll hear from Bristol-based quartet Jilk – their new album Welcome Lies is available via the Castles In Space subscription Library. You can also find their releases on Bit-Phalanx and Project: Mooncircle labels.
More TBTs in our archives.
Welcome Lies is easily the most complicated album we’ve ever written. Some of the tracks have been around in one form or another for over four years – and getting it out into the world has truly felt like a Sisyphean task. We did, however, finish it, and despite it being delayed by a pandemic its finally here. Just to give a sense of how ridiculous the writing process was – there are twenty minute plus versions of every track on the album, and a whole other album’s worth of material that was going to be a second disk in a double album…but who needs that in their life 🙂 (we still have plans for that second disk). You can get the album by signing up to Castles In Space subscription service. They are an insanely interesting label and one of the true indies out there.
Pause The Clocks For Women In Love
Shortly after Jóhann Jóhannsson died, I wanted to write a sort of tribute towards his style. We’ve always used lots of strings and neo-classical tropes but I was interested in doing quite a pure version of that. My favourite thing about this track is that it started life as an awful sounding midi sketch. Our demos are normally the beginning of the final product rather than something that will never be heard by anyone. Maybe one day we’ll release the midi version. Cags really developed this one by re-recording all the midi and augmenting and evolving the various parts.
We added some low end synths and mixed them with samples of cello to give it some heft. I love sounds and mixing that walk the line between the tangible and the abstract, the organic and electronic. For a long time this sat in development hell – Neil and I passed it back and forth trying to mix it. Neil added some nice ebow guitars but overall the mix just wasn’t working. At one point there was a whole second part of just vibraphone and trombone but it didn’t really add to the track. In the end Terry did a final mix and nailed it. He gave it loads of dynamics by adding this massive filter sweep and using loads of found sounds as texture.
Lost And Gained
Just to give an idea of how convoluted the writing process for this track was; there is a small transitional sound about half way through that is in fact a whole ambient acid techno remix of the song, sped up and reversed so its about 3 seconds long…I don’t say this to show off, there’s nothing cool about over writing a track. Just to show that this one went through A LOT of stages to get to finished.
Neil was in a great band called The Cedar and Lost and Gained started life as a reworked Cedar song. He sent me over a piece that was very rich and syrupy and had this weird spoken word sample from Al Libby over it. I liked it but after trying to rework it further found myself frustrated with the slowness of the track. So I sent it to Robbie Burges who recorded a drum improvisation just using a kick mic and two overheads. It was incredible and for the longest time the track was just textural, lush drones and this drum improv front and center. Inevitably we added more live instrumentation – glocs, guitars and some great improv sax from Kayla Painter.
This ended up being the last section of the track but I wanted to explore that idea of soupy ambience held together by a skeletal beat a little more and this accounts for the first section of the track. Terry added some cool vibraphone work that I ended up chopping up loads and it gave the middle section this real kinetic, bouncy feel. It makes me feel like being inside a pinball machine. Its a bit of an epic this one, obviously, but there are motifs and samples that appear in all three sections that tie this together. Its almost like an internal remix process happening within the track.
While there are synths and electronics in this one – I like it because its mainly built from organic instrumentation – just really processed and screwed with. It gives it a warmth and thickness that I like. So much modern mastering and mixing is about clarity and volume but I wanted to trust the listener to respond to natural mid warmth and overall fogginess with how they listened to the track. Ben Capp who mastered the record really responded to that as well.
For a very long time this track was a straight up Murcof rip – it had moody strings and glitchy, slightly 2-stepy beats. It remained that way for a lot of its life span but never felt right. I really don’t mind wearing influences on ones sleeve – it wasn’t that it didn’t work because it sounded like Murcof, it was just something not quite right about it. If I was going to be pithy and a little reductionist I’d say it became an exercise in deleting drums.
As the track grew and evolved I found the string arrangement written by Cags and the drones and textures were more interesting than the beats. I wanted the track to barely hang together and almost follow a dream logic. In the same way that dream events that don’t always make sense flow into each other without question, I wanted the sections of this song to bleed and morph outside the grid of the beat.
Neil and Cags both improvised piano parts and once they were integrated the experimental form started to shape itself a little bit. I was thinking a lot about someone like Frank Ocean – that kind of dreamy soul. I wanted the first half of the song to marry the dream logic with an RnB pop song. Owen Chambers sent me a load of vocal takes and we did some weird stuff with multi tracking vocals at different pitches and then having each track weave in and out of the mix.
The final section of the song came very late – again Robbie Burges sent me this incredible drum solo. By this time he was working with a band in a studio so the recording of the drums is way more high production – but I don’t mind that. We’re not a group that records for two weeks at a time in a studio. This track is pretty representative of the how disjointed and varied the recording processes can be – but I think there’s some incredible results and happy accidents that come out of working that way. I added some guitars, percussion and synths to the final third of the song to give it a climax and that was that really.
My favorite sound on the whole record is the final, treated glockenspiel hits you hear right at the end. Its pure glitch – the recording process had gone wrong for some reason and rather than try and fix it or rerecord it I just gained everything up to ridiculous levels so every little pop and artefact were super audible. For a short time I considered making the whole track just these treated gloc hits.
Slowly Coming Together
A lot of Jilk tracks start with one found sound that’s interesting or unusual. I accidentally (I don’t know how either) recorded this out of tune guitar I’d found at work (Arts Centre). Once I realized the odd recording was on my phone I got a bit obsessed with it. For a long time this track was just the guitar awkwardly looped with some delays automated over the top and some organ chords.
I find soft synth organs strangely pleasing. Unlike pianos or most other orchestral instruments they sound pretty good to me. Eventually we added this kick drum – the track is at a strange tempo. It’s too fast to be measured or housey but too slow and cumbersome at half time. I quite liked the urgency the kick gave it though and that started to shape the build and massive explosive climax moment. For ages the climax was a lot more traditional and ’post rock’. Rick Hambleton sent over some really cool galloping drum loops that really helped with the build and climax.
It felt a little awkward though to keep the kick going through the climatic moments so we decided to use Ricks drum takes in a much more strange and distorted way. A lot of the ‘noise’ you hear in that moment is actually his drums with lots of digital distortion as well. Terry’s trombone melody was great here – it really holds the chaos together. I really like the more experimental approach in that moment. It reminds me of The Caretaker or something like that – where the track is eating itself and falling apart as it plays.
A note on the piano you can hear at the end of the climax that mirrors the bass synth from the first half. The bass synth was improvised in one take a LONG time before the piano was recorded. To that end I had no idea what was played on the bass synth. It took Neil and Cags sat at a piano for about half an hour to work out and record what sounds like a simple bass line. I think part of it was a strange recording hysteria – because its not especially complex. It just doesn’t really follow a repeating pattern but at the same time is fairly straight forward in terms of time signature etc. Its a good memory of recording this one. They went crazy trying to get it down.
The bass part of "Slowly coming together" is still on my piano, I don't have the heart to throw it away as it took us so long to work it out! pic.twitter.com/lPOYkGHsdf
— Yellow Feenix (@YellowFeenix) February 14, 2021
Happy Talk, Sad Talk
In a shocking contrast to the rest of the album this came about from two main sessions. The guitars and sine tone synths were done in one and the strings done in the other. It was always going to be expanded on and developed but I ended up loving the simplicity of it – especially after how dense and convoluted everything else became. The guitar work was a bit of an ode to Mark Hollis (hence the title).
I wanted to capture the sense of space and loneliness that Talk Talk achieve. Obviously aiming high but that was the starting point. The guitar is in a weird tuning and I can’t for the life of me remember what it is. I quite like that though – between that and the strange processed over dubs I don’t think we as a band could play this live. Better musicians could probably work it out 🙂
Cags thought her strings were really cheesy. I think she still does. I like how the track morphs and although it does take quite a sentimental tone, there’s a sort of naivety to it that I like. Despite my cynical self I can’t help but feel touched by how heart on sleeve the track is as a goodbye. Last tracks…y’know? There was a super nerdy version of this where I talked about all the software/synths/pedals/plugins we used but it wasn’t that interesting. Get in touch if you want to know about that stuff.