Engineers have released a new album, Pictobug, their first new material since Always Returning in 2014. It is also the first time founder members Mark Peters and Dan MacBean have worked together in over a decade.
The album consists of four long, ambient, instrumentals and is available exclusively from the band’s new Bandcamp page. Click above to buy.
In May 2019, almost 10 years after the last show they played together at Bristol’s Colston Hall, Mark and Dan reconvened at a Wigan rehearsal room with no pre-written music to improvise pieces that would eventually become Pictobug. Named after the ominous, experimental piece from the band’s debut, Folly, the title references the nascent version of the band that shared an attic flat in Manchester city centre (the hedonistic sounds of a Friday night there in 2001 litter the introduction to Folly’s closing track). The elongated, ambiguous nature of this piece – the early part composed by Peters, the latter by MacBean – held qualities the pair felt they had sidelined in favour of the songwriting orientated sound they became known for three years later, so decided to redress the balance on these brand new tracks.
Chosen in favour of more upmarket urban spaces in London, they sought to harness the familiarity and reality of a space that reflected the post-industrial landscape of their early musical endeavours that led to them relocating to London and signing with the The Echo Label in 2003.
“After we created a guitar loop that really worked,” says Mark, “we’d stop and listen to it unfold as it strayed from the drum machine rhythm we played to. This created the favourable illusion that this almost generative music was growing and developing.”
“There was a conjuring, summoning nature to the sounds we were making,” notes Dan, “as if it were harnessing an essence in the ether that existed already. It wasn’t a matter of regression – it was as if we were tapping into a state of mind as opposed to a place. Spontaneity was paramount – it was definitely a case of unfinished business.”
“Our sole aim was to finally capture the improvisational side to our nature, as during the Echo years we seldom had chance to do that, but in the years before that, there were periods where we did nothing but,” states Mark.
“Our first records came out at the end of the glory days of the record industry,” adds Dan, “so it was more restrictive and the freeform aspect of the band was suppressed. Labels, as they had existed for years, were dying, they were becoming more controlling and there was less creative freedom.”
After selecting highlights from the first day’s session (following an enthusiastic investigation of solo pedal steel records by the likes of Buddy Emmons and Susan Alcorn) Mark approached local guitar luthier Richard Thomson to build a lap steel for Dan that was collected on the morning of the second session. The spontaneous atmosphere of the first session continued and the slide guitar you hear on the record is Dan playing it for the very first time.
The recordings lay dormant until March of this year, when the coronavirus lockdown began in the UK. It was obvious that the sprawling nature of these tracks suited the isolationist tone that enveloped the world at that point, so Mark began adding percussion and minimal guitar overdubs at home, remotely consulting with Dan. A strange yet fitting genesis for what is certainly the least conformist entry in the band’s undulating discography.