Hawksmoor, aka musical marvel James McKeown, has had one hell of a year, folks. Last year he dropped one of the best electronic albums of 2020 in Methods of Dreaming, a coming together of classic 70s Komische vibes and prog rock tendencies that seemed to show us what a collaboration between Tangerine Dream and Genesis in 1974 might have sounded like. Then back in March Hawksmoor joined forces with the mighty Heartwood Institute(Jonathan Sharpe) for Concrete Island, a post-punk musical adaptation of JG Ballard’s classic dystopian novel. Angular, jagged, and quite possibly the best thing Tubeway Army never made.
Not to sit on his laurels, McKeown has donned the Hawksmoor name once again this year for the absolutely stunning On Prescription. It’s less ethereal than Methods of Dreaming, in that it free floats along but is more direct and visceral. Still emanating hints of prog rock, but there’s a psychedelic swagger at times. It’s the hazy headache from one too many pints, and a handful of painkillers to dull the ache. On Prescription is the numbed relief that comes just before regret.
Here is a description of the record via Spun Out Of Control:
“The new album is a musical representation of the side effects of ‘oncology’ – the branch of medicine concerned with the study and treatment of tumors. Its track titles are anagrams, approximations or amalgamations of real pharmaceuticals.“
McKeown was influenced to write On Prescription as a reaction to a serious illness suffered by someone close to him. The results are a meditative and mysterious set of songs that tow the line between classic 70s rock and experimental electronic. Equal parts Edgar Froese and Roger Waters.
There’s a flow to On Prescription. There’s a vibe that permeates the room when you hit play. A slow-moving groove that forms in the wake of analog synths, humming guitars, and plucked bass lines. I could just as easily hear these songs in a basement den in a bean bag chair and a haze of smoke in the air as I could in some lost Michael Mann film of the early 80s.
“Xelodol” is the electronic pulse that opens the album. A kind of melancholy funk that opens the door to the clinic where we set our minds in a jar of hallucinogenic brine and wait for the side effects to take hold. This has a very old school vibe to it. Wish You Were Here-era Floyd comes to mind, with touches of Nicholas Jaar’s Darkside project. “Zolador” puts me in mind of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score work, with just a touch of drunken bluesy swagger for good measure. “Calzalex” is another standout among many. Darker sonic hues mixed with a muffled melancholy. There’s a warmth in the darkness thanks to McKeown’s deft musicianship and his ability to coalesce the synthetic with the organic.
“Kisqualin” feels like hazy side effects and hallucinogenic floating while album closer “Hertzumol” has a groove-heavy bass line and electro rhythm that melts into sweet narcotic surrender by the end.
On Prescription puts Hawksmoor on another level. Combining so many amazing vibes and moods with a collection of varied instruments, McKeown has made a very personal, engaging, and visceral album. Late night headphone vibes with the heft of classic 70s concept records, this is the kind of album hazy, basement sessions were made for.
8.3 out of 10
‘On Prescription’ drops 7/23 via Spun Out Of Control. Preorder it here.