Boomkat Product Review:
John Elliot’s blinding debut solo trip away from Emeralds, the pivotal synth supergroup he helped steer to acclaim a decade ago. An essential for fans of early 0PN, James Ferraro, Kevin Drumm, Fennesz, or indeed original synth explorers JD Emmanuel, Ashra and NWW.
Recorded in 2007 and first issued in 2008 on a super obscure cassette, ‘Imaginary Softwoods’ was John Elliott’s first move away from Emeralds, who by this point were crucial nodes of a synth/noise rhizome that connected everyone from Bill Kouligas’ Family Battle Snake to Prurient and Oneohtrix Point Never and his various aliases. Now returning to the album with the benefit of hindsight, it still sticks out from that flock and stands up next to other memorably oddities of the era, including those mental Decimus sides and the likes of Emeralds’ incredible ‘Solar Bridge’, but with a surely singular feel for coruscating emotional soreness and astral vision.
If the past can feel like foreign lands, then Imaginary Softwoods music conjures the sensation of exploring a familiar yet distant boreal forest at night, in a dream that returns as fractal and mesmerising as the LP’s artwork. Over the album’s 12 parts Elliott’s roughly textured analog synths are funnelled between dense, tempestuous wormhole dynamics and sanguine pastoralism in a style that shares an appreciation of analog chaos and grit. And it’s there that a line can be drawn with this sound’s much cleaner precedents: where the original synth-o-nauts of the late ‘70s and ‘80s prized their kit’s capacity for clinically crisp sounds, Ellliott and his contemporaries allowed for a more “realistic” X amount of noisy infidelity that felt genuinely psychedelic and organically unpredictable, smudging the signposts and drawing in a fog that makes ‘Imaginary Softwoods’ such a richly enigmatic experience.