“Through The King’s Wood” : Getting Lost in Pye Corner Audio’s Black Mill Tapes

I’ve been completely and utterly enchanted by Pye Corner Audio as of late. Admittedly I’m a late arrival to the haunted sound world of Martin Jenkins, but man I’m so glad I finally arrived. It’s a subtle music, that of PCA, but once you unlock the dark, melancholy magic that hides in the downtempo beats and sad robot melodies it’s a sonic journey I can keep maneuvering thru for days at a time.

I’ve got the trilogy of full-lengths he put out, Sleep Games, Stasis, and Hollow Earth, as well as a handful of his EPs over the last three or four years. I do recall seeing albums like Prowler, Stars Shine Like Eyes, and The Spiral on Mondo’s site, but by the time I woke up and realized what treasures they were they had been long sold out.

One musical journey I had yet to take was that of Black Mill Tapes. These were a series of cassette releases Pye Corner Audio self-released and have pretty much become the standard for DIY lo-fi, synth-based electronic music.

There’s both an unease and warm familiarity when listening to Black Mill Tapes. Jenkins eschews the typical tropes of imagined soundtracks and “scary” instrumental music. He locks into something far deeper and engrossing. With the cassette recordings the work on Black Mill Tapes feels as if it was unearthed from some 1970s or early 1980s time capsule. The music ranges from drones and wobbly ambient to icy synth chords that feel like an LSD-tinged Vangelis to Boards of Canada creating a tin pan alley robot opera with a dusty harmonium played through 70s tube processors. I also hear lots of early OPN vibes.

I don’t feel Martin Jenkins is aping any of these artists, though.

No, I think all of these artists are working and generating art on a frequency not many of us can dial in. They see and hear the world in such a unique and original way that you can’t help but hear those connective musical DNA strands throughout their work. In the case of Pye Corner Audio there’s a haunted element in the music. Sci-fi, haunted castles, dystopian landscapes, and a very palpable melancholy mood that runs throughout his work. Even in the quaalude slo-mo techno beats it’s as if there’s a party going on, but everyone knows the dance floor is their eternity.

Even the discotheques are haunted in the world of Pye Corner Audio.

Not that long ago Lapsus Records released a vinyl box set of both the first 4 volumes of the Black Mill Tapes, as well as a brand new 5th volume. Due to its limited nature and that it was shipping from overseas I didn’t jump at the chance to buy it and of course now it’s gone and I hold much regret in my heart. But I figured why not just buy it digitally? I can take it with me everywhere then. So I did, and the last three days have been absolute haunted, sonic bliss.

The world that Pye Corner Audio has built in these volumes is a place I find comfortable and soothing. Each volume has its own vibe and mood, with Black Mill Tapes Vol 1 feeling very tape hiss-y and gauzy in nature. It sounds like watching some Betamax tape from 1982 and the opening film company credit before that weird sci fi flick starts up. “We Have Visitors” even has a disco vibe in the drums and bass as the synths create an opening credits feel. It’s as if the tape head is barely holding on. “Theme Number Nine” swells with analog emotion, swaths of synth that seem to be baking in the sun.

Black Mill Tapes Vol 2 opens with the dread-inducing “Mirror Sequence”. A touch of John Carpenter with bits of Lucifer Rising thrown in for good measure. Jenkins touches on several key sonic masters while giving it all his own unique touch. “Through The Kings Wood” puts me in mind of the work Rival Consoles would hit up on a few years later on his album Persona. A sort of ping-ponging of arpeggiated electronic notes that build into an almost psychedelic trip. “Recrypt” is sad and gorgeous in its almost pastoral nature. Much of Jenkins’ work reminds me of late night fairy tales. Brothers Grimm on hallucinogenics, or Dr. Who with one too many absinthe. “Recrypt” gives me that feeling.

Black Mill Tapes Vol 3 has more high fidelity in the sonics, but continues to world build. I could hear something like “Inside The Wave” on a Depeche Mode album. But then you’re dropped into the over 7-minute drone-y and dreamy “Hexden Channel” with its through the looking glass vibe. It’s like stepping into some other realm where Daniel Lopatin takes a shot at the Phase IV score with Burial creating the beats.

Black Mill Tapes Vol 4 goes for longer songs and more of a techno feel. “Dystopian Vector Part One” is all about subtle grooves and an undercurrent of dread. I’m hearing some major Pentagram Home Video vibes here. I’m guessing PHV took great inspiration in the Black Mill Tapes series. “Void Bound” is another deep into the subtle dance floor vibes with a pinch of dread just under the surface. “Evil Surrounds” swirls and sways with repetitive glee. A cyclone of electronic noise and hypnotic sway.

Black Mill Tapes Vol 5 is the newest volume, and contains “Return To Synth Mountain”. This volume gets an A++ just for that title alone. Given that its Pye Corner Audio that only adds to the excitement. We return to the slo-mo electro dread of past PCA releases. And one of my personal favorites here is the opener “Became Self Aware”. First of all I absolutely love the title. It holds in it so many possibilities and existential worm holes to follow, but the music which accompanies it promises big questions, much pondering, and a sort of doomed melancholy that I can’t get enough of these days.

Black Mill Tapes Vol 1-5 hold in them this vast world of electronic music that is so much more than just electronic music. It’s world-building of the highest order. There are far too many artists to mention that owe Pye Corner Audio a debt for opening the portal. Black Mill Tapes are a portal. A portal to dystopian landscapes, haunted dance floors, lonely rooms at 3am with a candle flickering on the mantelpiece, and wobbly cassette recorders transposing dreams and transmissions from the other side.

Black Mill Tapes(10th Anniversary Box) is still and always will be available digitally. Buy it here. 

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