MAGNETOPHONE – Oh Darlin’ EP

In TV’s Scrapheap Challenge, participants have to build some working device out of stuff they can find in, yes, a scrapheap. (By amazing coincidence someone always seems to have thrown away a working motor, but that’s another entry entirely). Magnetophone, and their endless winking and clanking peers, are the musical equivalent: rusting and wheezing robots juddering around electric junkyards, springs popping and coils groaning. Sometimes they kick over a music box and some pretty old tune spools out; sometimes their gears seize entirely and the music hums to a nothing and then drags itself back.

It’s surely entertaining and likeable: maybe asking what it’s for is a question too far. But Magnetophone are so relentlessly abstract (without, note, being abrasive or groundbreaking) that the most interesting thing about Oh Darlin’ was the label, art-goth mainstay 4AD planting its flag on the electronic pack ice. Even the press release – a catalogue of unlikely feats and made-up personal histories, all very droll but an exercise in obfuscation which goes hand in hand with the music to make Magnetophone a strangely forbidding, self-sufficient exercise: go away, listener. We don’t need you. It’s a stance as old as electronic music itself, and two or three years ago felt fresher, neccessary even, with the pop charts so full of loudmouthed ninnies shouting out how ordinary they were. But after a while you get sick of it. Magnetophone have good ideas to spare – “Come on the ‘phone” is a fussy, tactile clatter of delightfully unlikely rhythms; “Lubeecha” is exhausted and lovely – but there’s a lack of substance here too, and worse, the sense it might be here on purpose.

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