Gazelle Twin & NYX: Deep England review

Gazelle Twin is the alter ego of Elizabeth Bernholz, a composer, producer and singer who creates unsettling, terrifying and occasional hilarious electronic music. Her stage costume resembles a Morris-dancing Leigh Bowery in Adidas trainers impersonating one of the droogs from Clockwork Orange. This retro-futurist court jester garb suited her remarkable 2018 album Pastoral, a febrile journey into the heart of middle England that mixed thuggish techno, menacing folk chants and lyrics that satirised old Albion and delved into its dark, paganistic roots.

The album has had something of an afterlife: it was revived at the London jazz festival in 2019 as a semi-staged choral project, featuring Bernholz and the six-piece drone choir NYX, and has now been rerecorded as Deep England. Several tracks from Pastoral are radically reworked to become drum-free, drone-filled immersive soundscapes. Better in My Day, a study in nostalgic bigotry, is made creepier by replacing the thumping beats of the original with heavy breathing and rhythmic grunts. Fire Leap is a version of that spooky playground chant from The Wicker Man, accompanied by a demented perpetual canon played on two recorders.

The voices of Bernholz and the women of NYX are digitally pitch-shifted to create freakishly low bass-baritone growls, as on Deep England, where they evoke a Gregorian chant choir. Throne is a nightmarish babble of watery effects that sounds like a ritualistic sacrifice by drowning; even more terrifying is Golden Dawn, which conjures images of a medieval basso profundo singing a threnody for England in a decommissioned power station, accompanied by electronic bleeps that sound like amplified water drips, and a microtonal choir put through endless layers of reverb. Like the rest of the album, it’s like a particularly gruesome horror movie that you feel the need to watch again and again.

No Such Thing As Free Will (Hush Hush Records) by Istanbul film composer Deniz Cuylan seems to invent new languages for the guitar: nylon-strung takes on Reichian minimalism, fluttering arpeggios that recall Vini Reilly’s spidery flamenco and atmospheric pieces pitched between Glenn Branca and Bert Jansch. Clark’s Playground in a Lake, his second LP for Deutsche Grammophon after 10 for Warp, alternates between metrical and hypnotic piano-led pieces, string-heavy drones and heavily textured electro-acoustic dystopias. New York violin duo String Noise’s album Alien Stories (Infrequent Seams) features five pieces by African American composers: the standouts are Yet to Be by Jonathan Finlayson (imagine bebop fragments reassembled as Schoenburg-style serialism), and La Púyala Muntá by Anaïs Maviel, mutilating the dancing, 6/8 rhythm of a Bach-style bourrée).

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