A.C. Marias was the alter ego of Angela Conway, long-time Wire collaborator, artist and now video director. Although her only album for Mute, Conway previously released records on Bruce Gilbert and (Edvard) Graham Lewis‘ sadly defunct Dome imprint. This 1989 album was recorded at the ubiquitous Blackwing Studios, the location of many great Mute recording sessions, with a veritable supergroup of Mute producers – John Fryer, Paul Kendall, Gareth Jones and Bruce Gilbert.
The album is characterised by a number of distinctive elements – Conway’s echoing, haunting and ethereal vocals, Gilbert’s deft yet subtle textural guitar, and liberal helpings of electronic accompaniment. It’s one of my favourite Mute albums ever, certainly a collection of songs that I return to time after time. In truth, it is also an extremely different proposition than one would initially expect from a Gilbert collaboration, as this is often a very different proposition to the noise-scapes that Bruce has perfected on his solo releases.
The album kicks off with very atmospheric track, the quirky ‘Trilby’s Couch’, a jazz-referencing melange of walking bass, highly spare percussion and flute / pipe sounds framed by occasional, fleeting flurries of analogue-esque synths. All the while, Conway delivers a mysterious lyric that seems to suggest bizarre hypnosis and psychiatric discussions in a Freudian analysis session. The lyrics are strewn with word pictures, bizarre events and nonsensical actions. ‘Just Talk’ is an outstanding minimalist sonic adventure, with repeated, processed stereo-spanning guitars providing the rythmic undertow over which Conway delivers a floating vocal which manages to sound more textural than the guitar layers. A two-note guitar melody and an echoing, icy percussion sound offer a counterpoint, with held synth chords urging this song to an eerie close.
The mystery quota continues on ‘There’s A Scent Of Rain In The Air’, which is built around a slow rhythm constructed of nothing more than either a deeply-processed cymbal or piston; a deep bass drone dominates the low end while Conway’s reedy voice phases in and out in the high end, and Gilbert provides a seasick, scratchy guitar scribble with what sounds like meditative ease. What sounds like a distorted handclap loop comes in at around the halfway mark, just as Conway’s voice begins to loop and echo upon itself. ‘Our Dust’ predates some of the beat-driven near-‘pop’ on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works, evoking the same reverb-laden bass and beat, and similar icy cool melodies. Conway’s vocal is offhand, casual, the repeated vocal of ‘I don’t care’ sounding like she couldn’t care less. The taped sound of a noisy restaurant or bar concludes the song. The sub-two minute ‘So Soon’ is driven by a quiet, tapped beat and swathes of analogue filtered guitar layers, and leads straight into the strident pop of ‘Give Me’. I first heard the track on the International compilation (and even sampled a section of Conway’s deeply processed vocal from the fading seconds of the song for one my own compositions). It’s got a heavy On-U esque beat (presumably Fryer’s creation) and an edgy Gilbert guitar loop, but it’s the randomised, processed vocal snatches – wrapped around Conway’s pretty lyric – that are the most captivating, and the stereo swirls require this to be listened to on ‘phones.
‘To Sleep’ is just a beautiful song, a carefully-crafted piece of moving electronica and euphoric guitar drifts which is mesmerising; it’s a suitably pastoral accompaniment to Conway’s poetry, which comes and goes like waves onto the shore. Entrancing and enchanting – you get the idea. ‘Looks Like’ is delivered in warped waltz time and, with its simple melodic synth pad swells could be a Vince Clarke composition were it not for the occasional intrusion of rippling guitar sounds. ‘Sometime’ is dark and edgy, a throbbing bass pulse and a ratchety sound culled straight from Wire’s ‘Advantage In Height’ offset by a pleasant strummed melody and a divine layered chorus of Conway’s voice(s). ‘One Of Our Girls Has Gone Missing’, released as a single, concludes the cassette and vinyl editions, while the CD includes the warped cover of Canned Heat’s ‘Time Was’, also released as a single.
A1. / 1. Trilby’s Couch
A2. / 2. Just Talk
A3. / 3. There’s A Scent Of Rain In The Air
A4. / 4. Our Dust
A5. / 5. So Soon
B1. / 6. Give Me
B2. / 7. To Sleep
B3. / 8. Looks Like
B4. / 9. Sometime
B5. / 10. One Of Our Girls Has Gone Missing
11. Time Was
First published 2004; edited 2014
(c) 2004 – 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence