By: Phil Johnston
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Flailing Tomb is the latest release from Oliver Barrett otherwise known as Petrels. I came to know of Petrels through the excellent Denovali record label. An experimental musician who’s music never settles for the one dimensional or repetitiveness. Evidence of this can be found on previous releases Mima and Haeligewielle. On Flailing Tomb the previous sounds of ambient and electronica are expanded and built upon. This is probably the most diverse and at times accessible Petrels release to date.
The album is sourced from mostly completely new compositions but also some music adapted from an alternate score to Jean-Luc Godard’s sci-fi masterpiece “Alphaville” that Barrett was working on. There are also contributions and collaborations with vocalist Never Sol, Ben Gaymer and a female choir.
A visual artist also, Barrett created the album’s artwork and clearly draws influence from multiple sources for his music and art. As well as the Alphaville theme, inspiration from sources as wide-ranging as Ursula K. Le Guin’s speculative fiction, Indian-Celtic connections, self-mummification, Jude The Apostle (patron saint of lost causes) are drawn upon.
It makes for an eclectic backdrop and fittingly the music is as wide ranging and cinematic in its execution. It begins with “We Are Falling Into The Heart Of The Sun”. An eight plus minute of sonic kinetic energy, reminiscent of Fuck Buttons or the ambience of Ben Powers Blanck Mass work. It slowly unravels and begins to build adding drums to the dense layers of electronics. A pretty impressive opening but only an inkling of what’s to come. “Thangen After Dothe” continues the theme but also increases the sounds and works like a bridge to the other worlds of the rest of the album. “Orpheus” is simply stunning, featuring the vocals of Never Sol against a backdrop of choir vocals and melodic synths. It takes on a more rhythmic pace and lyrically is adapted from dialogue of “Alphaville”. It’s a gloriously uplifting song and is almost overwhelming as it builds to its climax.
By this point it is apparent Flailing Tomb is not only ambitious but also successfully pulling it off. Barrett should get credit for producing a bold and complex sound and there’s still more to come at this stage. The remainder of the album is the three part ‘L. Caution’ taking in over twenty-two minutes of music. Part 1 begins with field recordings and a steady building rhythm. It transforms into a mesmerising fusion of Indian & Celtic sounds which is unique and mesmerising. Part 2 continues tapping into these themes with an almost meditative tone which builds in intensity throughout. Part 3 then explodes into life with guitar and drums added to the mix. It takes the album into a sprawling fuzzadelic turn stomping the assortment of sound and instrumentation underfoot. The album ends in a cacophony of noise and it seems a long way from those ambient openings.
A breathtaking end to an engaging album, Flailing Tomb is Petrels’ best album to date and a superb achievement in diversity.