David Jaycock – The Decline of the Mobile Library
Static Caravan – 14 May 2018
It is a tough time for library services across Britain. I know this because I work for one. Over the last ten years, we have been restructured, slimmed down, and generally bashed over the head with the austerity stick. One of the more recent casualties of cuts to funding has been the mobile library. It was deemed something of an expensive luxury and had to go. But for customers who relied on it – not just for books, but for a link to other people, a sense of community – the loss is keenly felt. David Jaycock is well aware of this loss: his latest album, The Decline Of The Mobile Library, is, at least in part, a musical celebration of these institutions and their place in society.
Jaycock’s approach is abstract but heartfelt. He sees the mobile library as a kind of liberating restraint – its limited stock often gives the reader a chance to focus on something they wouldn’t normally pick – and he uses this idea of restraint as a musical starting point. All ten tracks are instrumental, all were written for solo guitar with no overdubs and are augmented by rudimentary synths, old pianos and the decidedly 70s-sounding folk-rock drumming of Sam Kelly (of Circulus fame). The idea of using strict limitations to produce interesting artistic results is at least as old as the Oulipo group of writers (who formed in 1960). In the music world, it is more prevalent in modern composition and sound art than in folk, and indeed Jaycock’s tunes straddle the boundaries that separate the traditional from the modern.
As we have come to expect from Jaycock, the musicianship is exemplary throughout. Opener Prelude No. 4 is a melancholy scene-setter whose power comes as much from what it leaves to the imagination as what it presents up front. The guitar work seems to play with space and time and the synths provide an alternative, almost uncanny route into an altogether different musical past. We are in the realms of hauntology, where nostalgia and memory commingle with lost futures and faded utopian dreams. On Light Is There If You Like, Kelly’s drums anchor the piece well within the folk-rock tradition but the sense of the uncanny still lingers, maybe because of the hints of 1970s electronic music that permeate through.
The most obvious musical comparisons to make here are with guitar masters like John Fahey. Taken on its own, the guitar line from March Of The Dissonant could easily stand alongside much of Fahey’s work, but when you add in the faded synths the undercurrent of a stranger brand of music begins to emerge, eerie and nebulous, like a stripped-back Mike Oldfield, sadder and more soulful, and passed through the filter of retro-futurism.
There is a layer of dust on even the brightest moments here. The laid-back Browsing (Non Fiction) is the musical equivalent of walking into a room where no-one has been for years and finding a book written by someone whose name you recognise, but whose face you can’t quite place. This is music that plays with memory in an almost Proustian way. Over The Blenny is even more mysterious – the washes of synth recall the sound of wind, and the percussion is equally elemental. Fright Night, full of skittish drum flourishes and plinking piano, is a brief delight, teetering on the edge of discord.
But for all the compositional quirks and antique-sounding instruments, this is still a guitar album at heart, and Jaycock is a magnificent guitarist, whose playing is always nimble and exploratory without ever being ostentatious. This is most obvious on tunes like the pretty, delicate, Orchard, where the guitar is given more space and the light coating of synth is barely noticeable. But even the more heavily augmented tracks like Brighton With Flying Saucer are grounded in Jaycock’s admirable musicianship. Much of the album, in fact, is about the constant interplay between pastoral prettiness and modern-world weirdness, about how there is strangeness and partial alienation in what we think we know. Final track Here Comes The Dragon is a case in point: as the synthesisers get stranger and wobblier, the guitar and drums – our only link to what is tangible and knowable – increase in insistence. It is this tension that makes the whole album so beautiful, and so unnerving.