There is a painting in a gallery I often visit in Edinburgh. I’d walked past it several times over the years, never once causing a ripple in my peripheral vision. But one day recently, for an unknown reason, I happened to glance at it and was hugely sucked in. Consumed, I stood in awe for 30 minutes, absorbing the entire scene, one of my most powerful art experiences ever. The painting was Autumn In Glencairn, Moniaive by James Patterson and thinking back, the beautiful accuracy of the colours made the painting look like a highly believable painterly version of reality. Its low-key hues conveying a landscape I know like the back of my hand, meant this ambience ultimately beams something way more powerful than its brasher, more obvious neighbours.
Music that you live with but that somehow floats around you is something I’ve always been fascinated by. Making up mix tapes and these days, playlists, feels like hanging paintings that all fight for attention. Each track vying to be the centre-piece and keeping the secession of music at some level of momentum or intensity. But the way that musicians sequence albums, playing with those very factors can produce wonderfully immersive listening experiences way beyond the sum of their parts. Based on the fact that the first track (or some highlight track or single) will tend to be the one most people hit play on, and at that point, like it and jump aboard or get bored and disappear.
So, hitting play on your preferred device to activate the journey – I’ll be honest, Phantoms vs Fire’s My Mind As Your Amusement Park opened out several times in a wave, slipping straight into my subconscious. Possibly due to unfocussed listening, the first few tracks morphed into ‘brain not engaging’ land. And only when the album entered its second half, did anything cut through the mental fog. Of course, this says as much about my casual approach at the time but I’ve slowly become fascinated by the incredible subtlety that emanates out of this entire 39 minute slice of electronic weirdness.
My Mind As Your Amusement Park is a dark complex journey through watery dreams, filmic passages and bristling rhythmic splutters. The curiously named Phantoms vs Fire is the creation of Thiago Desant, a Brazilian artist and sound designer. Clearly the project name outlines a contest between two opposing forms and this metaphysical friction sits at the heart of this release.
D des i gn ner Offf Nightm ma res s opens with bird songs and huge cavernous smudges that slowly focus into diamond pyramids. In Love With A Glitch feels like the opening of a film, a train chugging through the monsoon sound tracked by a haunting dulcimer theme.
Shadows of that theme float reappear in the squidgy folds of Arrival but this time blossom into an increasingly electronic form that starts to cycle into plastic looping patterns before drifting and bubbling… Some 14 minutes in and this all feels like an extended trippy meander. We are gently bobbing along through a deeply textured catalogue of sounds where the background continually births new foregrounds.
By the time we reach As The Ashes Touch My Skin the music has almost no forward momentum at all, like the current in the water running in millimetres rather than meters. Burning Burning and Broken Innocence are similarly magnified static moments.
A ghostly sample heralds an increase in activity and the looping melody of the title track My Mind As Your Amusement Park cues up the kind of explosion the album has been somehow driving towards. A mutated strum, glitched toy piano, gentle pixelated groove gives way to a densely acid etched drum pattern before melting around a sample that throws you into that spectral dance at the Overlook Hotel…
Pink Balloon Dog Animal Skull Hacker jumps straight into a series of menacing geometries that bounce like a stream of code that have not only awoken the birds, but invite them to join in. And Otherworld Cacophony gravitated around a baggy guitar loop slowly engulfed with debris and tangents. Believe In The Fire (The Chanting) delivers you to a weird gathering, deep in the trees, as a suitable odd finale.
Overall, in just under 40 minutes My Mind As Your Amusement Park pans out as a highly odd listen. Sequenced as a series of darkly ambient moods that slowly grow into more abrasive rhythmic creatures, taking the listener on an adventure. The music throughout has a mirage like quality that’s difficult to place. Perhaps the strange offering in the title of the collection is actually the most telling. An invitation to relax and allow yourself to be entranced within the brain of the musician’s bizarre twisting narrative.
Some of this almost seems designed to zone out or fails to register, making the whole thing all the more appealing. Like the painting that I’d never quite spotted before, the power of finally engaging, the subtlety is actually insanely powerful. Here Desant uses a seemingly limited grainy monochromatic palette to describe a huge range of variety and forms. The album is a long slow fade up rather than a fade out…
If I was asked to pick a side in the battle between Phantoms vs Fire, I have no idea which way I’d go and no idea which side ultimately prevailed. However, after a weird gestation period on my part, or by design, it’s a record I’ve returned to again and again. Perplexing, dark, mangled, confusing and addictive stuff…