Thomas Ragsdale makes subtle and elusive music that appears like audio mirages. You listen to what is unfolding right in front of you and you’re entranced in the hazy atmospherics. But once a piece ends it seems to dissipate right in front of you, like a specter. You question yourself as to whether those melancholy melodies and ghostly tape loops even existed, or if they were a figment of your imagination.
I’m here to tell you they are very much real.
Thomas Ragsdale is one half of the electronic duo worriedaboutsatan, along with Gavin Miller. There sound is minimalist rhythms and ethereal synths coalescing into something between Berlin School and dark techno. Ragsdale on his own tends to veer towards more ambient textures with experimental tendencies. While worriedaboutsatan’s Bandcamp page is quite full of releases, that is also the case with Ragsdales’ solo output. His latest is the dark and sparse Honley Civic Archives Volume 1. It’s brooding and at times quite beautiful. A mixture of piano, strings, and field recordings are torn down and reconstructed by Ragsdale and given new life in seven intimate pieces that work as both introspective music movements and a score to a fever dream.
According to Ragsdale’s Bandcamp page, “This deep and introspective album touches on modern folk horror themes and the natural surroundings of nearby Yorkshire villages, drawing as much influence from William S. Burroughs and Aleister Crowley as it does William Basinski and Fennesz.” The songs here do have a “path not taken” feel, or “path you better not take” feel. You can almost imagine a moonlit walk home and hitting a spot along the way where the air is seemingly sucked into some void. Something like “An Unfound Door” plays as if to welcome you into the alternate world that was stumbled upon. The mixture of piano and effected sonics gives the song an otherworldly feel. Piano and strings together relay an almost Gothic, ancient message, and here Ragsdale makes them wobble and shake as if some weak, torn spirit waits in the darkness. “Pick Up Sticks” continues that ominous walk into the unknown. Footsteps crunch leaves as a piano’s bass note reverberates. Strings lilt and melt around us. It’s like chamber music recorded in some ancient cavern. This track is part Haxan Cloak and part Tim Hecker, working up dread and anxiety quite nicely.
Ragsdale works in the analog world here. Songs were run thru reel-to-reel tapes several times, giving them a worn but warm feel. Or as Ragsdale put it himself, leaving them up to “machine luck”. I’d say man and machine worked well together, as this close to 30 minute collection of songs feel like finding some long lost reel of tape in a dilapidated house in the woods. Audio secrets lost to time and myth. Songs like “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”, “The Craft”, and “Four and Twenty” work as ghostly reminders of what beauty can come from organic instrumentation, pure imagination, and the joy of experimentation.
Thomas Ragsdale seems to be taking the beauty of piano and strings and repurposing the sounds they make into something quite not of this earth. Honley Civic Archives Volume 1 is a dark and beautiful collection of ambient textures and otherworldly melody, strung together with tape reels, deconstruction, and dark imagination. It’s a soundtrack to a fall stroll into the unknown.
8.1 out of 10
Honley Civic Archives Volume 1 is available now thru Soundtracking The Void and Thomas Ragsdale’s Bandcamp page.