Here, at OBLADADA, one of the most vibrant and exciting fissures of experimental music was the weird overlap between psychedelics and the avant garde that happened in the late 60’s. Underground rock and academic theories freaking out together in some tripping bleeping multi-layered vortex.
Canada’s Intersystems are one blistering example of how bizarre and still engrossing these strategies could be delivered. Their 3 albums released in the late 60’s still feel like a singular statement in peak oddness. All delight in samples of spoken word, scrapings of musical rubble and generously peppered with spiky electronics. They all came in equally varied and fourth wall bending artwork, reissued a few years back by Alga Marghen, reminds us that they are some of the most desirable physical artefacts of an entire era.
The group gathered architect Dik Zander, light sculptor Michael Hayden, poet Blake Parker (collected from pre-existing recording or having his words rendered electronically, as he sadly passed away in 2007), and musician John Mills-Cockell. No doubt most who fell under Intersystems unique charm followed the trail towards to Mills-Cockell’s marginally more earth based but equally worthwhile Syrinx project a few years later.
However, the news a few weeks ago that Intersystems, after almost 55 years on, were releasing new music was a bolt out of the blue. Being totally honest, it’s always a bit nerve wracking when your heroes do stuff like this. Is it realistic to expect everything is just going to click into the zone they created the last time they made music? Older and greyer are guarantees, but how will #IV sit with their 3 more ancient and possibly crazier siblings?
The short answer is that this new album might have a slightly crisper surface but it’s every bit as pleasantly baffling as ever.
The opening 10 minutes of Ghost feels like two parallel meditations, one on Parker’s glacially paced vocal delivery and the other, a bubbling bank of electronic smudges. Whilst the voice only occasionally registers as words with us, they seem to function more simply as a human reference point within this electronic environment.
Revelation of the Birds takes things ever further, the gravelly voice this time caught in synthesised droplets and splashes. The elements seem to catch each other and align into rhythmical columns as ghostly choirs rise through the whole thing.
‘glad to hear the birds talkin’ in the trees, they talkin’ bird talk’
The voice circling on what the birds might be saying to each other. Roundly concluding they are saying everything they need to say, which isn’t surprising, but how often do we ponder the fact?
The next 13 minutes is filled with the futuristic hip-hop mutation of Sonny Abileene I and II. Digitised voices, threading through an extended monologue, as a sinister backdrop loops and evolves endlessly… X-Ray Animals whips up a hallucinatory pool of sound, as everything slowly bends and stretches in bizarre new ways.
The closer, The End of the World floats like a voice over to some unseen mind popping apocalyptic film. We then spend the next 14 minutes slowly pulled through an enlarging, busying corridor of sound, the words gradually looping forward becoming more and more nuanced and epic each time.
In the last few minutes, the voice finally disappears and only the music remains. The effect reveals a kind of alchemy at the heart of the whole album. The music and vocal element in every piece of music they’ve ever made is layering at least two separate things. The way they overlap here seems to create mirages in your head.
Sometimes, things connect and respond, or voids are created, and new meanings emerge.
Even the sleeve offers the album like it’s a colour gamut tool palette, the text is not orientated to gravity nor scale. Pick your foreground colour and your background colour, sometimes certain options work better than others but anything matched to anything else here works to some degree. The experiment in Intersystems world always yields results…
#IV is an album we have played several times and still remains totally confusing. Considered as a comeback album, this one is completely special, work that balances at the very razor edge of what might be considered ‘song’. It’s the most accessible music they have ever made, and if anything, reveals anew how truly radical their late 60’s releases actually were.
This album isn’t them mellowing with age or getting cosy. If anything, the huge gap in their discography has just made their uncompromisingly wild art even more concise and elegant than ever. The entire album is an unexpected but gratefully received gift – amazing stuff.
#IV is out on April 30 on digitally, cd and vinyl