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Ambient, sound collage, ethno-ambient, cinematic, techno, dub
Woob 1194 (1994, Emit/Bigamoebasounds)
Woob 4495 (1995, Emit)
Repurpose (2010, Bigamoebasounds)
Return To The City (2011, Bigamoebasounds)
Mama 6 (1994, Ninja Tune/Ntone)
Reviewed by Mike G
The music of Paul Frankland is "cinema of the mind" with few peers: intelligent, musical, vivid and emotional. In particular, the first two albums under his Woob moniker are among the most refined, subtle and innovative examples of the meeting between electronics and live instrument sampling that flowered in the environment created by now-legendary UK ambient label Emit Records in the 1990's.
The first album - simply called Woob 1194 (the digits being the Emit catalogue number) - is highly revered by Emit fans and arguably the greatest single artist album that label ever released. Its a hybrid of melodic synthscapes, slow tribal grooves, avant-garde sound collage and Third World instrument sampling that defies mere categories. The ideas are so focused and execution is so assured that even the 30 minute opener "On Earth" doesn't drag. The visuals are strong; some tracks play like a surreal movie allowing the listener any number of interpretations. It's music of light and shadow, capable of making you melt or making you jump. "Strange Air" builds tension slowly, playing with synth drones and dialogue samples from an old suspense film for over 10 minutes before suddenly scaring the hell out of you.
Not too far from Woob 1194 in sound and style is the wonderful Mama 6, the first of two albums which Frankland recorded around this time as one half of the duo Journeyman for UK beats label Ninja Tune. While it doesn't quite match the first Woob album for surrealism or weird narrative power, there's plenty to like in its warm funk basslines, crystalline arpeggios and the familiar enveloping clouds of synthetic chords and strings. The grooves are derived from dub or early house, sometimes both appearing in the one track as the composer explores a single theme using markedly different tempos. The album's highlight is the stunningly beautiful melodic epic "Latneiro (Woob's Sunrise dub)", one of his very best creations.
Meanwhile, the following year's Woob 4495 takes another surreal journey but this second album is markedly different from the debut. This time it's though some deep, dark tropical jungle teeming with life, an aural travelogue filled simultaneously with visions of beauty and lurking, unseen menace. Once again, Franklin's mix of electronics and live instrumentation is quietly dazzling - drums, bass, electric guitar - and here he adds further to his palette with some smart touches of flute and piano. There’s less melody and harmonies and more thumping, dubby grooves than on the first album, though the 25-minute “Depart” drops the beats to a whisper and opts for a dreamy, disorientating flight through some mountainous inner landscape.
Departure and return
After the 1990's Paul Frankland largely disappeared from view before suddenly reemerging in 2010 under several different pseudonyms and with a new Woob album Repurpose.
Dubbed by the composer as the spiritual successor to his debut, Repurpose is an unexpected delight. Two long new tracks bookend the release and showcase the Woob universe in all its distinctive glory: shimmering, pulsing loops of tonal colour, creepy movie dialogue, lush orchestral and choral samples, slow euphoric crescendos and widescreen sound design. "85-bit" has a lot of fun with old synth sounds including a Commodore 64 and yet somehow all sounding rather timeless. It slowly builds intensity, starting with a loop of ravishing strings before segueing into a chugging, Berlin-school monster with multi-layered melodies. Sandwiched between these two new epics are remixes and reinventions of older Woob tracks, mostly from Woob 2 and various Emit Records compilations. The remixes are generally warmer and more tonal than the originals. The exception is the dark and cinematic "Stranger Air", a direct nod to "Strange Air" from his debut.
The following year Woob released Return To The City, the soundtrack album for a short film based on timelapse footage of Tokyo shot by collaborator Samuel Cockedey. Given the picturesque qualities of Woob's music, doing a film soundtrack seems a natural choice. Most importantly, the music works well divorced from the images. Over three long, sci-fi tinged tracks Frankland builds huge walls of orchestral sound, hovering somewhere between electronic and acoustic, adding bells, lovely drones, grungy electronic beats, wailing voices and a 1000 other details. It's moody as hell; beautiful, a little frightening, totally involving. Listen to it at volume.
Ultrascope from 2013 is also impressive, a collection of dark widescreen music for head trips and 3D adventuring. Whereas Return To The City had an urban future noir quality to it, whereas this one maps an altogether more alien terrain. The title track surges and sighs with a dramatic string-laden melody, big drones and thundering drums. "Horizon Vector" is one of several tracks that uses a Berlin-school arpeggio but in this case slightly detunes it, giving off that surreal air that Woob does so well. The 24-minute "Ultrascope II" veers between gorgeous, soaring synth chords and dark, sustained strings that hover as if in suspended animation, skirting the edge of outright dissonance without tipping you into the abyss. Of course it's all very cinematic - a Woob trademark - and a good deal of this album would be a perfect foil for Ridley Scott's Prometheus visuals instead of the purely functional atmospherics that passed for most of that film's score.
With the early Woob and Journeyman CD's long out of print and fetching ridiculous prices on internet auction sites, digital download stores including Paul Frankland's own site www.woob.info are the best places to look for his albums.