Cities Last Broadcast – The Humming Tapes

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[Reviewed by stark]

In case any of you wondered if “The Cancelled Earth” by Cities Last Broadcast was a one-time venture by Pär Boström, now, after seven years, you have your answer. But if you expected a straight continuation of that album, better prepare for something slightly different.

Dark urban minimalism. This is how I’d describe “The Cancelled Earth”. In Dario Argento’s movies – “Suspiria” for sure, but also some others – there were these sequences of big empty squares, like of a city that is completely abandoned or perhaps one that was never inhabited. Built without a purpose. When I listened to the Cities Last Broadcast debut, I felt it was in a way an aural reflection of these images. Of an empty metropolis outside time and space. If we were to discuss literary references, Lovecraft would not be a bad signpost, obviously, but the more I listened to this one, the more I was thinking about Thomas Ligotti as well, as there were no monsters, no “Unaussprechlichen Kulten” either, but a dark, grey nothingness, an architectural style that might be defined as having no style at all. And the few people that are like these buildings. An empty look in their eyes, machine-like moves, no dreams, no thinking of the future nor the past.

Seven years have passed. Pär Boström has awakened from his creative slumber (well, it was something more than a slumber), and now it seems that he is going through possibly the most prosperous period of his career as an ambient/experimental composer. First this impressive 6CD release of his first recordings, then a brand new Kammarheit album that every dark ambient fan was waiting for (including yours truly), finally the lauching of Hypnagoga Press, the label that he runs with his sister, Åsa. And the first release of the siblings, under the Hymnambulae moniker.

“The Humming Tapes” is like a cherry on top of a tasty cake, if you forgive me this non-ambient metaphor. The previous album was indefinite in terms of where we are or when we are. While listening to “The Humming Tapes” I feel like things have started to take shape. Like in the movies, where there’s a shot of clouds or fog which gradually disappears and you see a concrete landscape with clear shapes, buildings and monuments which you may actually recognize. Cryo Chamber says that “Pär Boström explores his fascination with old séances and the early 20th century”. I had exactly the same impression even before I read that note. Maybe because of the cover? Maybe because of this trippy jazzy intro which sounds like Bohren & der Club of Gore played from a broken grammophone?

I see an Eastern European city in the 20s or 30s. Say Gdansk, Krakow or Prague. The twenty years between the World Wars were quite good for my country; I mean people had a job, culture and the economy were in bloom. But the phantom of anxiety was born in the West, and we all know how it ended. And I feel as if this album is like a sum of the uncertainty in people’s minds and souls, hovering over a beautiful and happy city bathed in lights and music. Some people were escaping in drugs, morphine or opium. Some were looking for comfort in the paranormal, in secret societies etc. With “The Humming Tapes” you explore the obscure corners of the metropolis, but not the ones where the beggars and drunkards reside; rather those with more of a spiritual foundation, so that you are able to balance the mundane bewilderment with the – often delusive – calmness of astral journeys.

When it comes to the music, I think it’s richer than “The Cancelled Earth”. The tracks are more layered, and you can feel the depth of the tracks very nicely. You feel that the background drone layer is like an aura surrounding the layers that are closer to the listener and the core itself. So that you have a feeling that it’s sort of a multidimensional aural structure. Like a building, a cathedral of some sort. And on top of that we have all these glitches, these moments when the sound goes out of tune, the humming of tapes (what a surprise, huh?). The final effect is truly impressive, I’d say it’s Pär’s best of everything he’s created lately. It’s like a decaying recording of the gloom hidden in dusty corridors, in fully furnished, but abandoned apartments in tenement houses, in opium dens or churches at night. There is a Polish paranormal thriller called “Medium” made in 1985 by Jacek Koprowicz. It takes place in Gdansk in the 30s. Krzesimir Debski has provided a great score for that movie, but if for some reason they’d like to make a remake (I mean, I prefer they don’t, but it’s so trendy now), they should ask Pär Boström for the soundtrack, because I have the impression that what he’s doing now with Cities Last Broadcast would fit perfectly. “The Humming Tapes” is a remarkable time machine.

Cities Last BroadcastThe Humming Tapes
Cryo Chamber
CD/Digital 2016

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