If music has a role within the world’s current challenges, it’s perhaps to engage your brain, and hopefully transport you. It’s a welcome distraction, fills empty spaces with creativity and creates a soundtrack to our days. It may well mentally and physically move you. Sometimes, you’ll play something and won’t hear a note. Other times, out of nowhere, it may swoop in and somehow plug straight into your skull and tickle your brain. This happened the first time I heard the first few seconds of music from this new album by Oliver Coates – skins n slime.
This moment occurred during the video to one of the new tracks – Honey. It’s probably now my favourite video of this crazy year. The video isn’t some labour-intensive animation or edit, rather, it feels like an in-the-moment first take. A slow handheld pan, elliptically orbiting a woman sitting at the edge of a river, we move through a field, ending in sunset lens flares as a wind farm propels the horizon. The sound, a droning sawtooth cello, pecked at by corrosive lo-fi swarms…
The combined elements come together like a shared lower-case epiphany. The colours and the landscape look like Scotland – the place looks like places I go. The video and music made me feel like I do when I’m out on my bike – a sense of being dropped into my happiest zone. Moving through seldom visited wild places, quietly, alone, always with a weird tune looping in my head, in time with the pedals, breathing, and I couldn’t be happier. An unremarkable but undeniable nirvana.
Honey is 6 minutes that drips in a rugged filmic beauty. It’s a feast of simplicity and now even when separated from the visuals, beams magic every time. There is something hugely emotive about Coates work and it’s hard not to be swept up in any of his minimal droning string patterning, but here, his art materialises into a seemingly effortless serendipity.
skins n slime as Honey’s parent album, focusses in on forms and overlaps between cello and electronic treatments. The slime in his process is the result of looping and layering live performances to create a full loaded sonic paste. Whilst this might sound like a fairly limited palette, the 5 part, 21 minutes of the opener caregiver pulls textures and space into a widescreen joy. Part 1 (breathing) curling into oily rippling pulses whilst Part 2 (4am) feels like a woozy recollection of a snake charmer. Beautifully placed droplets of sound map out Part 3 (slorki), Part 4 (spirit) and Part 5 (money) move over crisp surfaces towards rough distorted joy.
Philomela Mutation (from The Bird Game soundtrack*) gathers more beautiful geometric lines, but Butoh baby abruptly arcs into partially obliterated Bollywood rubble. Reunification loses its mind in ribbons of bending roller-coaster notes. Still Life is the sound of drifting past some shiny space station.
In fact, there is so much beauty here, the closer Soaring X (feat. Malibu) still manages to conclude things by going somewhere even more sublime. The slowly and tenderly delivered words, somehow mumbled like a childhood dream, until you can almost see what they describe.
Overall, the more beat focussed works on 2018’s Shelley’s on Zenn-La have evolved here into a spacious conceptual ambient suite. Despite much of this new material being completed in late 2019, it’s hard to hear new music without pushing it through the strange filter of our times. Coates cites the grid-like mathematic music of the artist Hanne Darboven and the spectral drift of Enno Velthuys as two reference points. Whatever is ultimately bubbling up through skins n slime, the album breaks new ground and builds much out of a thoroughly beautiful oddness.
As we step into what will undoubtedly be an odd Autumn, this new 45 minutes of music makes unique sense, which highlights skins n slime as essential.
skins n slime is out on 16 October on RVNG.
A portion of the proceeds from skins n slime will benefit Down’s Syndrome Scotland.