I used to work with this bloke who had a joke that ended with the punchline “bus shelters, air raid shelters…” and I can’t remember what it was. It was probably a smutty joke, as he was a smutty man. He used to tell the joke at least three times a week. Now I very much appreciate an abandoned shelter too, but I think he and had different views about what activities we were using them for.
The recent release by A Year in the Country, The Quietened Bunker is an exploration of the abandoned and/or decommissioned Cold War installations (i.e. my favourite places). And (spoiler) it’s brilliant – an absolute contender for my album of the year. Every single track is expressive of the theme, though they all take a different approach to presenting it.
Keith Seatman kicks us off with Lower Level Clockroom, featuring dueling arpeggios and an icy pad mixed with the ominous ticking of a clock and snatches of speech or laughter. The occupants of the bunker counting down to nuclear Armageddon? The longer the track goes on the more it feels like you’re being led closer and closer to a disaster.
What better way to follow up that than with some genuinely unsettling drone? This comes in the form of Drakelow Tunnels by Grey Frequency and evokes a real sense of unease that conjures up images of moving slowly through abandoned tunnels, torch in hand illuminating corroded walls, doors and furniture, unsure what may lie around the next corner. The final 40 seconds or so of the track ends with a faint tapping sound on metal bunker walls, a chilling discovery perhaps of something or someone trapped down there.
Maybe the person trapped down there is the last man playing the last piano, star of the next track The Filter’s Gone/The Last Man Plays the Last Piano. The tinkling piano slowly mixes with static and synths, it’s beautiful and fragile and could fall apart at any moment.
There next three tracks take the tempo up, Aggregates II by Pannbrites introduces glitchy, percussive pulses, while Polypore’s Bunker 4: Decommissioned takes us down a much more horror route, enveloping us in a swirling wind of synths and a creeping beat. Comms: Seen Through the Grey by Listening Centre harks back to a time before the cold war bunkers were abandoned and East and West nations were monitoring each other’s communications. You could (almost) dance to this one.
Both Crafty Mechanics by Time Attendant and Crush Depth by Unknown Heretic are claustrophobic, doomy listens. The latter pushes in similar musical directions as Haxan Cloak and is as outstanding as it is terrifying.
Those hoping to end the album on a more uplifting note aren’t going to find it in Waiting For the Blazing Sky by David Colohan, but it is a ten minute long magnificent slab of swirling and droning synths punctured occasionally by snatches of dialogue; the perfect soundtrack as we watch the world burn. Indeed, events of the year 2016 may have us all waiting for the blazing sky, but not before you’ve got your hands on this compilation.
PS I’ve remembered the joke my old work colleague used to tell. It was: “I’ve lived a sheltered life. Bus shelters, air raid shelters…”, followed by a wink even more creepy than an abandoned bunker…