The facts: Hour House is the work of two former members of Newcastle group Castings, specifically Mark Leacy and Sam Kenna. They’re now based in Melbourne. Stroke is their first proper cassette release as Hour House, though they have also released music as Motion (Sic). Cooper Bowman, who runs the Altered States Tapes label, also features occasionally.
It’s hard to avoid drawing parallels with Castings, but one factor stands in contrast: I was surprised by this tape because I expected something far more fiddly and tentative. Castings always sounded tentative: a gathering of sounds which struggled captivatingly to transcend their beginnings. These occasionally erupted into moments either ugly or darkly beautiful, even both of these things at once. Stroke, on the other hand, sounds like a narrative. It sounds impeccably structured. It also, mood wise, feels like a decline. Several discrete declines contained inside a much larger one.
There’s a funereal atmosphere to Stroke. The empty frequency mourning at its beginning gives way to a warm glow part way through the cassette’s A-side. A fog of synths flag slowly at their edges, like heat on tarmac, and the melodies sound at the verge of disappearing. When this passage evaporates an ugly tape loop marks a more pure form of degradation. This theme of decay is apparent all the way through Stroke. Its containing world circles a drain. The A Side is a bleak, shallow ascent and then a long nauseating descent into death.
Its B-Side is different. A choral sample declines slowly, soon replaced by a sampled voice demanding it be allowed to sing in the background, to which another replies: “alright, but sing waay in the background!”
This is very funny, but Hour House is never at any other point funny. Listening to Hour House can sometimes feel like slowly going insane. All of its parts – the synths that struggle for brightness, the torpid washes of soft noise, the menacingly circular samples – achieve a state of mild, despondent paranoia.
Maybe this sense of mental unwellness is what naturally occurs when heavily treated and looped samples are allowed to sustain for too long. Or maybe it’s chemistry. Afterall, there’s no doubting that much of the B-side here is reminiscent of The Caretaker’s productions, a project which deals solely in austerely manipulated source materials. But in the end, Hour House is focused on a more gruelling, less diagnosable and more personal trajectory of degradation. These sides are marked by glimpses of uncomplicated, fraying beauty which serve to make the bleaker parts all the more barren and unsettling.
Stroke is available through Altered States Tapes.