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Cities Last Broadcast - The Humming Tapes (2016) - Review

Band: Cities Last Broadcast
Album title: The Humming Tapes
Release date: 14 June 2016
Label: Cryo Chamber

01. Lights Out
02. The Sitting
03. Anomaly
04. Glossolalia
05. Centennial
06. Fourth Floor
07. Electricity
08. Kathédra

Rejoice, dark ambient fans! This year, 2016, is the year of Pär Boström! What started as rumors of a new album on the horizon by Kammarheit, and tracks contributed to several compilations, has turned into a full-force storm of releases by this veteran of the scene. Cities Last Broadcast The Humming Tapes is the second release this year, and again we see Pär Boström releasing on another label. For whatever reason, after many years with Cyclic Law, Pär Boström has moved on to new territory. Hypnagoga Press, his very own record label and publishing house, along with his sister Åsa, has released their debut collaboration Hymnambulae Orgelhuset. Now, barely a month later, we are seeing the second release of the year.

The Humming Tapes by Cities Last Broadcast is Pär Boström's first solo album on Cryo Chamber, and following suit, it is mastered by none other than Simon Heath! As usual with Cryo Chamber releases Simon Heath also played a large part in the album artwork, which is nothing short of magnificent, and currently adorning my desktop wallpaper. On it we see a city skyline, maybe early 20th century London, which appears heavily polluted, overcast, and has the textural quality of some old worn photograph.

The Humming Tapes shares very little in common with its 2009 predecessor The Cancelled Earth, other than name and level of quality. With The Cancelled Earth, Pär Boström focused thematically on an apocalyptic wasteland, all that remained after humanity finally did itself in. Often, throughout the album, decaying and irradiated landscapes were transformed from visions in Pär Boström's mind into vivid and horrifyingly bleak soundscapes. Seven years later, The Humming Tapes does not return to this destroyed and forgotten world. It steps back in time, to a time when we were just beginning to devour our planet at an exponentially increasing rate; a time when humanity still had a sense of wonder and mysticism about itself. Sybill Leek, probably the most famous witch in modern history was born into this time. Edgar C. Cayce, another famed mystic, was in the peak of his popularity. G.I. Gurdieff had begun his mystical quest for the truth of life and death. This is the period to which The Humming Tapes harkens back.

Pär Boström has dug deep into his soul, prying the demons from within his inner conciousness, and brought forth an album which delivers a modern retelling of the early 20th century's love affair with the mystical tradition of the séance. For those unfamiliar with this practice, a séance is a meeting at which people attempt to make contact with the dead, especially through the agency of a medium. Séance literally is the French word for a seat, session, or sitting.

On The Humming Tapes, Pär Boström has taken his sounds, yet again, to a whole new level. This is not to be compared with Kammarheit, Hymnambulae, or even The Cancelled Earth. The Humming Tapes is a wholly different animus from the mind of Pär Boström. On this album, as alluded to by the title, there is a constant presence of an old tape humming. The sound not only looks to capture the spirit, no pun intended, of the the early 20th century mystics, but it also seeks to sound as if it is a buried treasure, just recently excavated from that time-period itself. It sounds old, worn, beaten down by years of wear and tear. This is by no means a bad thing, it is a magnificent accomplishment, likely in part because of Pär's fascination with the past and its relics.

Apparently, Pär Boström has actually gone about conducting his own séances on The Humming Tapes. The album begins with "Lights Out" a track which has significantly less density to it than the rest of the album. It is the beginning of the séance itself, as the participants are taking their seats, tense and anxious, yet with an air of wonder and expectation. As the album progresses it seems that this sense of wonder goes out the window and is replaced with foreboding and then dread. "Anomaly" is when things really start to heat up, the expectations are confirmed, the spirit begins to spring forth from the dark and smokey atmosphere. The following track "Glossolalia" takes things to an early climax, bringing that inner expectancy to a full case of dread as the participants seem to have in fact awakened a vicious and lively, possibly even demonic, spirit. Once brought to this height, The Humming Tapes keeps its momentum, and holds the listener on the edge of their seat as the séance continues to unfold in their mind's eye. The pace only slightly calms towards the close of the final and longest track on the album "Kathédra".

On my first play-through, I was blown-away, but ultimately not quite sure of the replay value of such a thematic and intense work. However, after many listening sessions, I can say that my initial feeling on this matter was unwarranted. There is plenty of replay value here. Each track has such depth and mysticism to it that following replays will continue to increase one's appreciation, not only for the theme, but also for Pär Boström's immaculate grasp on his art form.

Each album that comes forth from Pär Boström's frigid North European studio seems to take him in another new direction, each as equally impressive as its predecessor. The Starwheel was an early crowning achievement, but what has come in these last few months has been nothing short of magnificent. I would highly recommend this album to any veteran listener of the genre and just as much to the amateur ear. Whether you are hear for a massive helping of mysticism, or for the way Pär Boström seems to be able to manipulate any sound effortlessly as he pleases, this album is for you. Top it off with the unparalleled mastering skills of Simon Heath, and gorgeous cover art, The Humming Tapes is a must have album.

Review written by: Michael Barnett
Rating: 9/10

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