nfantjoy are preoccupied with phantoms. Not only have they covered Japan’s “Ghosts” (a dead giveaway) on With and placed an intriguing poem about spectres as its climax, but in order to keep the PKE Meter busy they’ve also ensured that the whole thing is chock-full of atmospheric electronica. So much so, that it’s a little like being taken on a mini-cinematic trip through a haunted mansion or, at the very least, through a YouTube style compilation of disquieting set-pieces. Every listen is a tentative walk into a chilly room with fraying, dusty curtains flapping erratically in a whistling breeze. The shape of a lady beckons to you from a single, lonely chair by the abandoned fireplace. She seems lost. Out of place. As her head gently rises, it is clear that something is very wrong ... the figure has Paul Morley’s face. Brrr.
This is Morley’s second jaunt as Infantjoy, in partnership once again with former-Auteur James Banbury. A couple of tracks from their debut Where the Night Goes pop up again here, presumably in rejigged and extra-spookified form (hence the tagline for With—“revisions, versions, originals.”) Just over half involve collaborations with special guests (hence the name With) who I’m not really cool enough to know much about. Except for Sarah Nixey, whom everyone is required to know something about by UK law. Or should be.
Nixey lends her vocals to the aforementioned “Ghosts” cover, backed by soft wind chimes that gradually mutate into the digital burblings of an unattended fruit machine. Perhaps it’s just the material, but her voice seems warmer here than when delivering the sardonic prose of Black Box Recorder. The appearance is welcome; one of the few pieces where the spoken word features at all, serving as respite from the pure, mood-setting ambience. It is joined later by a further burst of vocal significance: “Absence.” Here, Morley himself offers some words of advice about encounters with the supernatural, whilst the rumbling beats and mangled synths do their best impression of whirling some books and crockery around the room. It’s a neatly philosophical musing about the nature of hauntings—that we are all pursued by our own ghosts. But the delivery is just too familiar. However engaging the track becomes it will always primarily be Paul Morley talking amusingly about apparitions, and this somewhat overrides any other desired effects.
It is immediately followed by the chopped structure and distorted sounds of the mansion folding in upon itself. Presumably the meeting with the spirit didn’t go well. This is an unusually violent few minutes in the context of the album, the majority of which is relatively sedate. Until this point, the unquiet dead are content to express their sorrow through rapid, hollow-wood percussion, repeated piano phrases, or the delicate chimes of a ballerina music box. Perhaps the occasional instrumental drone. Even the uncanny industrial churning of “Blossom on a Stem” remains composed and rhythmic. Before the presence in the property is challenged, the goosebumps arise only from the observation of loneliness and loss. Only when actively confronted do the ghosts turn upon us.
Perhaps there’s something in that.
Yet whether this message exists at all, or is as nebulous as the shadowy shapes conjured by the shimmering, whispering tones, is not of paramount importance. In the realm of the corporeal, Infantjoy have crafted a compelling work. One that can boast a richness of metaphysical resonance.