3.5 Degrees is the debut album from Manchester-based electronic musician John Howes, and it title says a lot about the approach taken on this compelling album. That implied measurement is opaque, divorced from context, an in-between angle, just left-of-centre, and it neatly encapsulates the amorphous quality of the music that Howes has assembled here.
This is an album constructed of layers, often overlapping and – as on the opener, ‘Concangis’ – running out of sync with one another. The effect is to create hidden warrens and alleyways of never-repeating sonic events, like a mash-up intentionally gone wrong, and those events are intriguing for their slightly disjointed, randomised quality. Unlike Brood Ma’s DAZE, which shares some of 3.5 Degrees‘s skewness, Howes’s album sounds calculated and focussed, as if any randomness was actually a composed act rather than mere consequence.
Although 3.5 Degrees is an album that relies on the depth and originality of its sounds, rhythm is an important contributor to the overall presentation. ‘Zeroset’ and ‘DVR 16’ are delivered through locked, unswerving but subtle beats, slowly evolving but broadly constant, while wandering synths and springy effects give this a wayward, malfunctioning quality. You can imagine this being the kind of self-generating electronic music made by circuit-bent artificial intelligence-led computers as they bide their time on some lengthy inter-galactic trip through space. That ‘Zeroset’ also takes in a deep, swelling euphoric quality toward the middle of the track might link back to Howes’s earlier house experiments, but it’s cracked and chipped enough to sound perfectly imperfect.
It’s not all warped – by which I mean misshapen as well as sharing characteristics with the fabled mid-Nineties roster of a certain Sheffield-based label. ‘OYC’, with its pretty melodic cluster and droning synth texture could have easily found itself on a Kraftwerk album like Ralf & Florian, where classical-esque tonality was then a more important frame of reference than roboticism for the group. It represents another angle altogether in Howes’s music and one that suggests he’s immersed himself in a whole array of detailed electronic research to assemble this album.
Above all else, it’s the jagged angles and blooming textures of 3.5 Degrees make for such an intriguing album. Nothing sounds the same twice, and the inner universe of each track continually reveals itself with each listen. I’m not prone to hyperbole, but I’ve not felt this drawn to the elusive, infinite possibilities and fractured beauty of ‘listening electronica’ since I bought Aphex Twin’s ‘On’ single way back in the mid-Nineties. This is a truly impressive debut.
Howes at Bandcamp: here
(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence