Less a singer-songwriter, more a force of nature, Peter Hammill started pouring his hyperactive soul into music 46 years ago and has rarely stopped questing for new sounds or concepts to explore.
His 32nd solo album (not counting Van der Graaf and collaborations) has emerged as a stunning late-period career peak, up there with his most ambitious, challenging and provocative works.
Recording sporadically at his own home studio between September 2012 and July 2014, Hammill approached the album with a cinematic sensibility that was discovered through initially constructing tracks out of lyric scraps and old notebooks, before ripping them apart and editing parts back together, almost like a screenplay for an avant-noir movie.
The end result ranks alongside Hammill’s most obsessively experimental outings, conjuring ghosts of previous works and more often forging into previously uncharted territory. He builds layers of guitars, electronics and the multi‑tiered vocal tapestries he’s turned into an art form. With this liberating new ethos, Alien Clock may recall his most wracked confessionals, but it’s transported into the unsettling dream sequence continued by the disorienting backwards guitar finale of Hooks.
The titular CD is the main event and it’s also available separately, but Hammill rightly sees this opus as meriting a work-in-progress box set. CD two’s Songs features 10 individual pieces, all with different titles but recognisable as original sources. The subterranean theme and searing vocal which introduces In Overview also opens the second disc’s Upon A Sixpence, before the two outings reach their respective forks in the road. Even presented individually, stand-alone songs such as Passing Clouds are no less complex and brain-twisting than their cinematic incarnations, Hammill having created an organic, multi-headed Hydra with infinite possibilities, all with his characteristic intensity.
The third CD, Retro…, features four lengthy instrumentals which deconstruct key elements into realms of weightless avant-classical electronica, only tasting a semblance of a beat on KabukiCloudSome or the dismembered dissonance of 57WishesUntil. Hammill has now ventured further out than he or any of his contemporaries – David Bowie, Peter Gabriel – have ever been, with mesmerising results. He has created a monumental work here, which reinforces his
status as this country’s most fearlessly uncompromising musical voyager.