Idle Hands, whose boss man Chris Farrell spoke to us at length in 2014, recently released the debut full-length of Rhythmic Theory. This release, Circulation, follows a hefty number of 12″s on a small number of labels over the past few years. Between his own label, BRSTL (which he runs with Farrell and Shanti Celeste), fellow Bristol enclaves Happy Skull and Ancient Monarchy and, of course, Idle Hands, he’s nothing if not loyal. Twelve releases across those labels (and Blackest Ever Black offshoot A14) have appeared since 2012, each one exploring a different aspect of electronic darkness. While early releases focused on the heavy, crushing bass of the techno soundsystem, the bass overwhelmingly deep on tracks like “Riveted”, releases such as 2014’s Endless Forms showed new emotion and colour, touches of vibrant electronica dancing around where once was only darkness. That said, last year’s Future Tense seemed like a distillation of those earlier tropes. He explored a breezy, housey vibe on “Rundown Jam”, while “Beauty of the Last Light” developed slowly, determinedly, unfurling ideas with a steady gentleness. Its counterpart, “Edge of Reason” explored a kind of 6/8 timeline, an unshakeable groove that managed to disconcert the notion of anything “floor friendly”.
Most of these ideas come together, if not in a single track, across the body of Circulation. “Intro To My Imagination” sums up his dark aesthetic, as vast, yawning sounds hint at cavernous emptiness, indecipherable dark vocals speaking unknown terrors (or random nonsense, as it may be). This drifts suddenly into the propulsive beats of “Longevity”. This dances neatly into a more open expanse, allowing brisk and playful claps to join in with inspired sounds and hints of trickling water.
“Waldron’s Lament” swirls around with booming kicks in a 3/4 pattern, giving way to delirious strings that could fit as easily into classic Hollywood romance as nightmare horror stock. This moves toward staid piano and simple sax lines, in all a strange mix of sounds, especially from a known techno warrior. That said, this is album territory, so despite opening on familiar ground, anything goes really. “Interlude” is similarly off-piste, and its title is perhaps a nod to such a diversion. A further tread down 3/4 lane, its chords are warm and dubby, its percussion a joyous crash. It’s markedly different from anything in his back catalogue, but sits nicely alongside some of the brighter tracks on Strategy’s Seeds Of Paradise, which Idle Hands released last year.
If these early tracks prevaricated in terms of Rhythmic Theory’s approach, “Creeper” hits the floor with a bang. It’s a sparse, rib-rattling track, all distant ominous tones and thunderous bass, undoubtedly the release’s centre point. The fact that it’s sandwiched between “Interlude” and the brief “A Work Of Fiction” is no mistake. The album closes with “End (of Forever)”, another title that’s either delightfully tongue in cheek or desperately morose. Its main theme seems amusingly hopeful, though a repeated high-pitch feels like a distant alarm bell, a warning sign of oncoming destruction or catastrophe.
In a relatively unusual move, at least nowadays, the album comes with a dedication: “This album is dedicated to Jodorowsky’s Dune, without which it wouldn’t have happened and to my daughter Evelyn, I hope you listen back and enjoy this one day.” The beautiful sentiment of the latter statement notwithstanding, the reference to the documentary of the film that never was is telling. The enormous undertaking that led to nothing is akin to Fitzcarraldo’s attempts to bring opera to the jungle, and while Circulation is very much a real piece of art, its world view is dark, apocalyptic and wry. Imagining this as a soundtrack to or inspired by something so mired in grandiose failure is to play a dangerous game, but on balance it works, given how direct succinct and, ultimately, good this album is.