Christ.: Blue Shift Emissions

[1 January 2007]

By Will West

Many ardent followers of the UK electronica scene will be aware of his previous connections to a certain pair of Scottish production wizards, but Christ. (aka Christopher Horne) has proven himself to be a hell of a lot more than just “that guy who used to be in Boards of Canada”.  Having established himself as the most well-known artist on the small yet consistently fabulous Benbecula label, Christ. has been releasing his blend of enchanting, downbeat electronica since 2002 when he provided us with his influential Pylonesque EP.  Just recently, his old studio buddies have moved into a relatively more straightforward and organic territory with the The Campfire Headphase.  Meanwhile, Horne has stuck to his guns, releasing this album full of squelchy, spacious beats and lush pastoral washes of sound, similar to those that inhabited his debut.

The Boards of Canada tag that follows Horne around appears to be a label that he is keen to shrug off, (there is no mention of them in his press release, or on his MySpace profile) and who can blame him?  Trying to establish yourself as a unique and individual artist, whilst your past projects are incessantly dredged up must understandably become a little tedious.  Even now, 10 years and several releases since he worked with Boards of Canada, reviews of Horne’s work are rife with comparisons and references to his previous colleagues.  This, to be fair, is pretty unsurprising.  His mellow atmospherics and heavily processed synth melodies have shared the odd similarity to Boards of Canada in the past, and continue to do so throughout this release.  But these similarities are purely cosmetic, and Blue Shift Emissions is a disc that should, for two reasons, go a long way towards relieving Horne of his Boards of Canada albatross.  Firstly, he has further developed a style that is distinctly his own, resulting in an album that sounds decidedly like a Christ. record, and not a Boards of Canada one.  Secondly, this release sounds considerably fresher and more innovative than anything his Scottish counterparts have put out in recent years.

His downbeat electronic grooves, which are centered round rich, yet simple analogue synth layers and gritty IDM beats, still maintain the distinctively spacious qualities that ran through Pylonesque.  Never afraid to keep things sparse, Horne allows his gleaming keyboard motifs to meander dreamily over mechanical rhythms and deep bass, the whole package often soaked heavily in reverb.  When stood next to his debut, it is clear that all of the same inspirations remain firmly in place.  The airy synths of “Stained Century” and “Happyfour Twenty” evoke some of Aphex Twin’s more chilled-out compositions.  In contrast, tracks such as the euphoric “Vernor Vinge” (possibly the finest individual cut on the release, and recent single), with it’s cavernous beats and woozy melodic lines, reveal Horne’s appreciation of slightly twisted psychedelic material from My Bloody Valentine and The Cocteau Twins.  Many tracks hark nostalgically back to ‘60s electronica, to a time when the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Delia Derbyshire were producing the theme tune and incidental bleeps for Doctor Who.  “Ganky” for example, an eerie groove full of burbling keyboard lines and twitchy beats, would seem to be the ideal soundtrack to an invasion of Daleks. 

Although very futuristic and shiny on the surface, when it comes to the musical foundations, Christ. is clearly a traditionalist at heart.  There is nothing particularly challenging about his harmonies and melodic hooks, they are both basic, uncluttered, and occasionally straight out of a music theory book (for the theory buffs among us, “Blue Shifty Missions” contains a chord progression built around a cycle of fifths, a tried and tested harmonic technique as old as the hills, good examples of which can be found in Joseph Kosma’s “Autumn Leaves” track, and in Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon”).  His very traditional theoretical approach underpins the space-age beats and effects, resulting in a sound that is both harmonically and melodically easy on the ear, kept fascinating by the very modern sheen that permeates his tracks. 

Blue Shift Emissions is not an album to skip through hastily, it is clearly intended to be savoured in its entirety.  Unlike Pylonesque, an EP made up of tracks with clear individual impact and no overall structure to speak of, there is a very natural progression and structural cohesion to this record, from the opening synth swells of “Substration”, right through to the woozy and serene closing keyboard riffs of “Balaam”.  The journey in between is packed full of idyllic, beautifully melodic slabs of electronica, delicate and uncluttered in content, yet instantly accessible and beguiling.  Blue Shift Emissions is one of those rare joys, an electronica record that is instantly loveable, yet one that reveals more with every listen. Christ., the savior of UK electronica?  You better believe it.

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