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Ceephax: Cro Magnox

Can I get an ‘album of the year’? Andy Jenkinson aka Ceephax has been on the acid tip for many years now, with consistently excellent (if occasionally skewed) results but this LP comes across as a true peak – it may just be the record he’s always threatened to make.

Grandiose opening salvo ‘Cooling Ponds (Drowning)‘ sets the mood perfectly with something akin to the radiophonic workshop if it had been infiltrated by some real gangsta types. For this is an album full of sci-fi drama, underpinned by a wide range of human emotions which shine through the machines. The rolling arpeggiated hooks and uplifting chords of ‘National Grid‘ make for a euphoric combination – this track is simply stunning, likely to enter the canon of timeless electronica classics, whilst the balance of Jenkinsons’ plethora of synth sounds is characterised fully on ‘Camelot Science‘, which develops its motifs over time in the same way that a stage-based computer game soundtrack might. The influence of lo-fi technology is clear from his pseudonym and he’s not afraid to counterpoint his analogue boxes with some 8-bit sounds – a contrast that suits him down to the ground.

What’s great about this album is that he seems to have taken the conscious decision to make something altogether serious. Quite often he’s opted to express a slightly jokey element in his music and whilst there’s nothing wrong with that (indeed, his results can be extremely funny) there’s something about that approach that risks undermining his undoubted skills as a musician; The crisp 303 on ‘Transcontinental Power Lines‘ is tapered with full-on funk stabs before a three note pad salvo takes the top of your head clean off, the title track is a halfstepper of gargantuan proportions which moves through a gamut of feelings, and just check out the awesome transition on ‘Reactor‘. Perhaps the biggest triumph on the album is ‘Newhaven Lights‘, a lightly acidic bouncer with instantly memorable chords which calls to mind Legowelt’s finest moments. Like many of the tracks here, it’s cranial enough to be a hugely satisfying listening experience whilst also laden with considerable dancefloor weight. There are some excellent ambient pieces here too, from the Delia Derbyshire-esque ‘Memory Lake‘ to album closer ‘Forest Zone 303‘ – ambient acid that just floats away leaving a hazy memory.

Overall the effect of listening to the album from start-to-finish is of a widescreen stereo epic, multi-layered and with many themes worth musing over. Being lovingly spread over three slabs of wax by Belgian label WEME, it is also a great-sounding set of cuts. I’ll say no more on the matter – electronic music in album form doesn’t get much better than ‘Cro Magnox’.