The new Amp release opens with the sound of a sandpaper ghost being sucked back through gravel. The rasp steadily increases in density. Suddenly, a booming horn rings out, and the sound is captured and enclosed, cocooned in mournful warmth – at this point, the rasp starts playing a solemn rhythmic motif. The ghost becomes an army of ghosts, or a funeral procession, their journey a steady, sullen march over the dunes.
It is hard to know where to start with such a massive release – AOYT spans over ten years of B-side and unreleased material and a dizzying variety of musical styles – but this first track is a good way in to understanding what unifies Amp’s sound. It seems to contain the integral aspects of their music in microcosmic form. It begins in mystery. Gradually, meaning is allowed to evolve correlatively as each sonic individual assumes its place in the whole; in this case, the movement is from nebulous and elemental white noise to richly evocative and profound sound-scape. This dynamic structure, recurrent throughout AOYT, suggests Amp’s improvisatory approach to the music they create. It feels as though the band begins a piece, (whether it be with a rasping drone, or an accordion riff, or the sound of a satellite hovering serenely outside the biosphere), unaware of how things will develop or how the individual sounds will lock together to form a whole in the ultimate unification of parts into piece. Sounds are left to find their place, the piece to assume its whole being according to its own mystic laws, without conscious interference from the human musicians.
There is also Amp’s characteristic marriage of searing noise with serenity. What is essentially a squall of pitiless white noise is repackaged by the embracing resonance of the horn, tamed and wrapped up into a floating, peaceful bubble. The violence, frightening when raw and left alone, now seems completely self-contained. It is as if our perspective has shifted. As when viewing the world from space, or viewing a city from a large, suburban hill; the rat-race and its daily battles lose their menace with distance, encapsulated into individual, essential elements of a larger, harmonious organism.
Finally, this track demonstrates the extraordinary ability of Amp’s music to stimulate the imagination. To describe Amp’s music simply in terms of its composite sounds, or to compare it to other sounds, would be to completely misrepresent them (not that this would ever be an adequate description of any music). Amp deal in imagery of the imagination. “Atmosphere is the key to the imagination”, so say the sleeve notes, and the music embodies this principle to the letter. The imagination is unlocked, the mind goes blank and becomes a playground for visions. Hence the ghosts, the procession and the desert.
So, Amp’s music is about organic form, instantiating a paradoxical harmony of peace and violence, and the imagination. Though these elements appear throughout the record, the music here, stylistically speaking, is far from formulaic. Amp are full of surprises. This is how they manage to keep us gripped through a 3hr36min three-CD compilation. On “Lutin”, a piece which would not sound out of place on Aphex Twin’s SAW II, lightly percussive techno pulses through the drone. “ICU”, on the other hand, incorporates a very Bristolian trip-hop loop but decontextualises it; instead of a steady, hypnotic bed, the loop stops and starts, in and out of time. Sparse and skeletal, it accompanies little more than a resonant pitchless drone and the occasional sound of a piglet grunting. And the surprises keep coming right to the end. “Le Revenant” features Karine Charff, Amp vocalist, murmuring something in French over some Erik Satie-esque piano and the sound of the ticking of a pocket-watch (a ghost, locked in a fading portrait, trying in vain to tell us something about time?). “Noir et Noir” sounds a bit like Nitzer Ebb, and the cover of Spacemen 3’s “So Hot (Wash Away All Of My Tears)” is a pretty and melancholic cowboy ballad. It's not style that unifies the Amp’s sound, it is mood and general principles.
Amp are often lumped in with the drone bracket, but they are far less classical than bands like Stars of The Lid, for instance, indeed, they are lo-fi to the point of punk, but much more varied than more rocky droners of the Bardo Pond ilk. Perhaps their closest spiritual ancestors are the Velvet Underground. A Velvet Underground at their spaciest. If they had completely given up their souls to the Absolute and started a cult with Nico as their death’s head sorceress leader – and perhaps started mainlining into their eyeballs. There really is something cultish about Amp’s sound. Karine Charff’s beautiful intoning, the mental visions, the flutes and organs and repetitive tantric figures do sometimes make you feel like you might want to cast away your possessions and follow them to… wherever they might be going. But one also gets the feeling that an Amp cult ritual is likely to be a far more sinister affair than a Hari Krishna party. No tweedledee, barefoot lute-strummers they, but wild-eyed and dusky Rosicrucians. If the record begins with ghosts, it ends in an evil flurry of witches. A cult I would recommend joining on a temporary basis only then, at home of an evening with a pair of headphones and a pint of dark mead.