Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Northcape (SCQ's Year-End Questionnaire Part III)

2010 was a momentous year for Northcape (aka Alastair Brown), who released his excellent full-length Captured From Static on Sun Sea Sky Records. Chatting here with SCQ, Brown revisits how that album likewise captures his songwriting through times of pressure and isolation – unique experiences that benefited his craft.

SCQ: Every list-lover's favourite question: what are your top albums of 2010? Feel free to include any older yet worthy records you discovered this year.

AB: In alphabetic order…
Boy Is Fiction – ‘Broadcasts in Colour’. Superb album, and not just because it’s on the same label as Northcape (Sun Sea Sky)! This is classic electronica in my opinion.
Carbon Based Lifeforms – ‘Interloper’. I love nearly everything that Ultimae records release, but Carbon Based Lifeforms have to be a favourite. Absolutely superb deep and chilled progressive electronica.
Caribou – ‘Swim’. Caribou have taken a great direction on this release, again excellent tunes, reminiscent in places of the new wave of Swedish warm electronic house from artists such as Plej (I’m a big fan) but with their typically slightly more experimental approach. It’s impressive how they continue to reinvent themselves with every new album.
Four Tet – ‘There is love in you’. Has Four Tet’s trademark clean precision of sound, but I find the more straightforward melodic approach more emotionally powerful than his previous releases.
Lights Out Asia – ‘In the Days of Jupiter’. I’m also a big fan of Lights Out Asia since hearing ‘Garmonia’ through Sun Sea Sky. Their new album is (as normal) amazing, and up there with their debut, a powerfully atmospheric fusion of post-rock and ambient.
A recent discovery rather than a release this year is Melodium and in particular his album ‘Flacana Flacana’. This is beautifully simple melodic music, as you can tell I’m a fan of tunes and the tracks on this album are vastly more than the sum of their parts.

SCQ: What were you listening to a lot of while recording your excellent Captured From Static?

AB: It took over a year to record, and some tracks date from earlier than that, so quite a lot! I wouldn’t say anything in particular inspired the sound on the album, but I’m sure what I listen to does have an effect though most of my influences are unconscious, rather than conscious attempts to get a particular artist’s sound. Long-time favourites are Boards of Canada (this probably can be heard in places!), and I’ve also been listening to a lot of music from Ultimae, over the last few years, but also a wide range of other stuff, melodic electronica, ambient and IDM, shoegaze, and some indie rock as well as a variety of unsigned music.

SCQ: Be cocky for once in your life: what was the finest thing you did all year? That moment where you actually thought "shit, I nailed that..."?

AB: I think it must have been finishing the last few tracks of the album. Sun Sea Sky had already said they were interested and for the first time I felt under some self-imposed pressure to actually complete the album! I can have trouble finishing tracks off (perfectionism…) but the impressive thing was the way the last few tracks on the album just dropped into place. ‘Pastoral’ and ‘Static Theme’ both were completed relatively quickly, but I’m very pleased with both, it was the first time I actually managed to complete tracks to a level I was happy with without too much struggle.

SCQ: Effect and Cause: Your new album arrived just as I was breathlessly waiting for Summer to end, and chilled-out tracks like 'Shinkansen To Kyoto' contain the icy disposition to carry me into Autumn's cool breezes. Okay, your turn: confess a true tale that inspired one of the songs on Captured From Static.

AB: Strange how some people have thought the album sounds warm and others cool, which is great actually! Just picking one is difficult, but my tracks tend to be inspired by moments and situations that I have experienced rather than stories as such. I was lucky enough to work in Japan for a few months and ‘Shinkansen To Kyoto’ is inspired by that, just an attempt to put the listener in a certain moment in time. I was by myself for quite a bit of the time and I suppose the fact that the environment felt so foreign really gave me time to think, wandering around temples in Kyoto was one of the highlights, I expect Air’s brilliant ‘Alone In Kyoto’ was inspired by a similar experience.

SCQ: If all the reasonable and implausible ideas in your head came to fruition in 2011, what would they be?

AB: Reasonably I’d like to release more music. I’ve been struggling to find time to put releases together but it’s something I’ll keep working on. I’d also love to find someone who is interested in putting images together with one of my tracks.
More implausibly, a dream is to spend a few months in the mountains, in a house with a fully-equipped, state-of-the-art studio, rather than in my spare bedroom.

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