Review: Broken Harbour – Gramophone Transmissions

The pacing and harmony choice of Gramophone Transmissions – during the first half in particular – seems to suggest that Blake Gibson has derived more than just the project name from Stars of the Lid (taken from the Texan duo’s “Broken Harbors” suite, I’m guessing). Both parts of “The Ballad of Dave Bowman” make use of this influence most prominently, and glide with the same sort of orbital grace – gigantic major key chords surge and recede as strings, and then as church organ, the latter of which drenches the room in thick reverberant resolution. I’d argue that these are actually the weakest two pieces though; not only do they recline into a rather obvious and slightly synthetic state of bliss (unable to parallel the scale and warmth of SotL), but their emotional provocation pales in comparison to the hideous paranoia chill that takes over for the second half.

It’s here that Gibson’s source material feels most dramatically re-worked: samples of orchestra and choral voices are ripped away from a classical context and melted down into dark ambient murk, as though a demonic evil that lurked within is finally being permitted to surface. Layers that harmonically complement within themselves are merged until a terrible dissonance sparks up between them, while voices bend and quiver like ghouls that wail across towering stone walls and ceilings.

But how does this unsettling second half rise out of the tranquillity that dominates the first? The sudden overhaul in mood feels too abrupt and inadequately explained; the absolute darkness consumes an audio space within which not a single shadow was permitted before, and Gramophone Transmissions doesn’t so much possess a disjointed narrative so much as bring in two experiences that lack sufficient connection points between them. Here’s hoping future material draws from Broken Harbour’s darker aspects, as Gibson is undoubtedly most effective when working in atmospheric unease and intolerable cinematic suspense.