Nostalgic acts of idyllic creation.
Spencer Grady 2011
The recent closure of the Central Office of Information (COI), announced in June 2011, was mooted as an effective and essential means of governmental cost-cutting. But it also brought about the sad dismissal of a weird and mysterious authoritarian figure, affixed in the memory of a certain generation; an obsolete and creepy uncle with a firm and distinctly clammy grip. For this was the agency responsible for producing endless cautionary, but downright scary, public information films such as Dark and Lonely Water, Play Safe and the famed ‘Charlie Says’ animated series. These brief vignettes couched grim messages of alarm aimed at adolescence, all the while maintaining a decidedly Albion-like air of menace. Donald Pleasence was even brought in to narrate. But with the COI dispatched, who’s left to shepherd our vulnerable young flock?
Step forward Jon Brooks aka The Advisory Circle, whose project, by its very designation, demonstrates its architect’s overt fascination with these filmic artefacts of a bygone British age. Brooks’ music draws heavily upon the uncertainty of an era (1978’s Winter of Discontent, Cold War brinksmanship etc) from which these broadcasts held their nightmarish sway, employing the edgy electronics, burbling synths and, frankly, unhinged advice proffered by our former big brother. His previous works, such as 2005’s brilliant (and recently reissued) Mind How You Go, encapsulated this strange infatuation, bristling with a troubled paternalism and bucolic, magical beauty, at times sounding like the ominous soundtrack to a supernatural Arthur Machen yarn.
Now Brooks is projecting his creations upon a seasonal compass, traversing the annual moods and atmospheres of this great isle via a broadening of his tonal palette. While still honing a nostalgia-inducing circuitry, part defiled public safety manifesto ("The Advisory Circle… we make the decisions, so you don’t have to.") and part Boards of Canada reverie, As the Crow Flies also incorporates the organic patterns of past folk outsiders such as Heron, Forest and Trader Horne (check the echo-laden arpeggios of the baroque-flavoured Ceridwen). Album closer, Lonely Signalman, marries plaintive acoustic strum with cyborg croon, encapsulating in microcosm the curious hex being woven throughout. It shouldn’t really work (Pentangle meets T-Pain?), but the artistry resides in the conveyance of the uncanny.
All told, this is arguably The Advisory Circle’s most fully-realised set to date (accompanied by a typically eye-catching sleeve by Ghost Box’s in-house designer, Julian House), exhibiting a stronger sense of (dis)place(ment) than before and, as such, constitutes the perfect entry point for anyone looking for a way into Brooks’ enchanting, wistful realm.