Mark Van Hoen – The Revenant Diary
By: Tim Clarke
The only logical place to start with this review is the album that got me into Mark Van Hoen, 2010’s Where Is The Truth (City Centre Offices), which is an absolute stunner, unequalled in the rest of his strong discography. Two years on and The Revenant Diary takes a very different direction, spinning a U-turn back in the direction of earlier albums The Warmth Inside You and Playing With Time, but sounding even more dislocated and decayed.
While Where Is The Truth was song-based, deeply layered and full of effects-drenched vocals, The Revenant Diary is stripped back to an unsettlingly basic core. Apparently Van Hoen was inspired to take this creative path by hearing an old four-track recording of one of his pieces from the ’80s. The tracks on this new record do sound strangely weathered, as though they’ve been around for a while, their edges eroded over time to expose a raw, aching underlayer.
There’s a pretty even balance between beat-driven tracks such as ‘Don’t Look Back’, with its eerie rave-after-everyone’s-gone-home vibe, and more textural pieces, such as the delicious ‘Garabndl x’. Just as you’re starting to settle into one of its distinct styles, Van Hoen changes gears, creating a feeling of perpetual unease. It doesn’t necessarily cohere spectacularly well as an album; each time I listen it’s rare I’ll be drawn to all of his modes, instead skipping around in search of a song that sits best with my mood. I manage to find one each time rather than eject the disc, and when I do find one it’ll sound amazing and I’ll crank the volume.
This shapeshifting quality means the album evades easy comparisons; at moments it’ll sound like Boards Of Canada (‘I Remember’), Oneohtrix Point Never (‘No Distance’), or early Warp electronica (‘Laughing Stars At Night’), but then it’ll transform again, out of reach.
Fittingly, the album ends on ‘Holy Me’, one of the strangest and most beautiful pieces of music I’ve heard in ages. It’s just a digitally manipulated female vocal, sandpapered and stretched out for nearly ten minutes. It feels weird and unsettling, but once it gets going you don’t want it to end – which is a pretty good summary of the album as a whole. I don’t love it, but it’s so odd and addictive that I can’t stay away from it.