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Songs We Love: Snow Ghosts, 'Undertow'

From left, Snow Ghosts' Ross Tones, Hannah Cartwright, and Oliver Knowles.
Courtesy of the artist
From left, Snow Ghosts' Ross Tones, Hannah Cartwright, and Oliver Knowles.

<em>Tessellations</em> is out February 26 on Houndstooth.
/ Courtesy of the label
Courtesy of the label
Tessellations is out February 26 on Houndstooth.

One of the great things about the U.K.'s "electronic music" scene circa 2016 is how incredibly broadly defined it has become. It's turned into a place where the future and the past are incessantly co-mingling in dub's bass-bin. Folk narratives are being underpinned by abstract electronics, continental drifts of poly-rhythm and drone are smashing into one another, and the darkness of doom metal and industrial art-school leanings mix with some low-fidelity versions of house and techno. Old languages are mutating into modern expressions.

One of the record labels recently trying to document the continuously shifting discourse by repping many of its sonic dialects is Houndstooth, an artist-driven company founded by Fabric, a nightclub central to ambitious London electronic and dance music since 1999, and helmed by Rob Booth, of the great Electronic Explorations blog and podcast. Houndstooth's catalog mirrors its principals' defining features: manifold rhythmic styles and extreme sonic chutzpah, with artists like the house producer Call Super and new-generation junglist Special Request leading the charge. And all are on display on the upcoming compilation Tessellations, which celebrates the label's three years in existence.

As one of the first artists signed to Houndstooth, Snow Ghosts are central to the label's identity as well. The part that producer Ross Tones (who also records solo as Throwing Snow), vocalist Hannah Cartwright (who has also records as Augustus Ghost) and multi-instrumentalist Oliver Knowles play is that of grand goth-pop experimentalists driven by English folk motifs and deep bass drones.

Listening to "Undertow," the group's excellent contribution to Tessellations, you'd be forgiven for imagining this song existing in a more metal- and prog-rock-oriented age. Synths and low-end are layered deeper in the background, while finger-picked acoustic and a wailing electric guitar accompany Cartwright's soft intoning about her emotions resembling the tides, all of them deep expressions in the tradition of tony English narrative. Yet somewhere around the fourth minute, this notion is given a shrewd post-punk update, as tom-toms start pounding and an approximation of a 4/4 beat arrives. The beach we suddenly find ourselves standing on is New Order's — also very British and fatalist, and, here, lyrically apropos. Suddenly, Snow Ghosts aren't simply extending the U.K.'s electronic music sprawl toward a grandiose past, they're doing something to reconfigure it.

Tessellations is out on February 26 on Houndstooth.

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