Boomkat Product Review:
Almost a decade on from its original release via Mille Plateaux offshoot Ritornell, Afternoon Tea still feels like a vision of the future. A quintet of extreme electronic experimenters come together for a journey into the digital borderlands between computer music and free improvisation, as captured over a series of live concerts held during the early months of 2000. In edition to a remastered version of the original two-part Afternoon Tea release, this 2009 edition comes packaged with an untitled compilation track (from the Maschinelle Strategeme album) plus twenty minutes or so of extra 'Live Tea' material that's never been heard before. The scope of this music is somewhere between the early Mego catalogue (FennO'Berg springs most obviously to mind) and the more abstract ensemble concert recordings heard on the Erstwhile label, with a dominant aesthetic that's firmly grounded in high-end digital noise music yet never really resorts to anything especially abrasive. 'Afternoon Tea 1' whirrs and clicks at a relatively unassuming dynamic level, subtly combining laptop textures with loose strands of treated guitar. While their fellow musicians keep to their computers, both Ambarchi and Rowe have their six-strings to hand, though neither resorts to anything discernibly guitar-like at any stage, and at least for the first twelve minutes or so, only complex, deep-set metallic sonorities and digitised crackle seem to make up the soundscape. These quiet textural elements offer no shortage of possibilities however, and the twenty-five minute 'Afternoon Tea 2' makes brilliant use of hyper-sensitive pickups, carefully sculpted amplifier hum and computer-generated glitch tapestries. The levels of discipline, poise and self-restraint exercised over these first two pieces is album enough in itself, but the addition of three further tracks is most welcome: after a relatively brassy three-minutes of spluttering noise and drone during the anonymous compilation piece 'No Title', the unreleased two-part 'Live Tea' recordings from the 2000 What Is Music? festival kick in, with the first installment offering harmonically resonant, bell-like guitar treatments, minor-key, almost orchestral drones and Philip Jeck-like integrations of some undisclosed modern classical recording. The second piece takes on a more voluminous, industrial quality, launching into ray gun synthesis sounds before eroding away to a hollowed-out spluttering end. Still sounding like something vehemently modern and firmly lodged towards the cutting edge of contemporary electronics, Afternoon Tea hasn't aged a bit.