TO:51 – Locust “Wrong”

DCD – 39:47/39:54

The album, Mark Van Hoen’s second for Touch after “The Last Flowers from the Darkness” [TO:31, 1997], features Holli Ashton on lead vocals, and various backing vocalists including Lisa Millet, Tara Patterson (Autocreation), Sarah Peacock (Scala, Seefeel, January) and 4AD artist Vinny Miller. The instrumentation is purely electronic analog synthesizers, edited and manipulated in Digidesigns’ Protools. Mark Van Hoen, who programmed and produced the LP, wanted to invoke some of the spirit of late 70’s British electronic music, combining that sound with his now familiar brand of electronics for which he became known during the 90’s.

The fragility and unpredictability of vocalist Holli Ashton’s personality and vocals, combined with the decayed and warped quality of the sound offer a warmth rarely found in such pure electronic music. Imperfections are the source of that warmth and there are several connections here between the late 70’s (the period which first inspired Mark to make music) and the last few years. Electronic music in the late 70’s was forced to become more inventive because the limitations of the instruments of the time needed the musician to craft each sound by hand, and the instruments often went wrong; out of time and out of tune. These same instruments were used on this album; there are no samplers, guitars or anything else but analog synthesizers and vocals on this recording. More recently, artists such as Ryoji Ikeda, Pan Sonic, and Hazard have sought to bring out imperfections in digital music, and those influences are here, too. Even the second CD, to be played simultaneously with the first is a ‘misuse’ of technology, yet it makes a beautiful sound.

Sometimes things just don’t work out right…

In the Spring of 1998 Mark Van Hoen AKA Locust had just finished exhaustively promoting the critically acclaimed ‘Morning Light’ album. This hitherto much lauded, yet underground electronica artist was about to break into the mainstream. But then things went wrong. The usual story of falling out with an independent label which was eventually resolved with Mark’s liberation.

During this difficult time Mark recorded ‘Wrong’ – an album of songs with Holli Ashton, the dominant vocalist featured on Morning Light. Like so many artists before him, through his plight, Mark became all the more driven to produce a work that would meet his objective of being both commercial and also innovative. Summing up this frustrating period of enforced silence, the aptly titled Wrong, finally sees the light of day on Touch.

Track list:

1. Heal
2. Make A Difference
3. Believe In The One
4. Sweet Sky
5. What Do You Care?
6. Separate
7. Wrong
8. Impossible Adventure
9. Haze

1. Presence And Gifts
2. Create, Dissolve And Recreate
3. Faith Grows From Trees
4. Distopian
5. Strings That Bind Or Drop
6. Playing With Time
7. Night Navigation
8. Candle Wishes
9. Conversations Beyond The End Of The Sky


The Wire (UK):

Mark Van Hoen’s mid-90s Ambient electronica for R&S/Apollo were largely polished explorations of dark textures and ominous atmospheres, but increasingly he and his collaborating vocalists have moved into dislocated pop. Featuring lead vocalist Holli Ashton, plus Lisa Millet, Seefeel’s Sarah Peacock, Tara Patterson and Viny Miller, Wrong represents Locust’s boldest pop dislocation yet, though it draws more from early 80s R&B than from current chart toppers like timbaland. “Believe in the One” is an update of The Eurythmic’s lurid blues, run through Ambient’s synthetic filter. “Sweet Sky” sounds like Kate Bush blown back to earth via satellite from a helium-soaked, offworld paradise. Likewise, “What Do You Care?”, the record’s unquestionable highlight, burnishes the vocals in such a curious way as to suggest orchids blooming on the polished surfaces of George Lucas’s THX1138. Wrong dates back to 1998 but languished in label limbo until 2001; it doesnt sound dated, however – at least not in the conventional sense. In fact, the time is quite out of joint on wrong: Van Hoen reportedly uses analogue synthesizers to evoke the spirit of the computer music of the 70s, but the vocal treatments – shudderingly bright and jawgrindingly ecstatic – and the filtered breakbeats combine to create an idiosyncratic sound that doesn’t belong to any identifiable era. The sense of dislocation is heightened by the album’s format: two discs designed to be played simultaneously. Disc one contains the album proper, but the companion disc of cued up complementary drones casts a quadrophonic shadow. Aside from the nominal ‘interactivity’ implied, it’s not clear what’s gained by the use of this format over, say, a surroundsound DVD, but the experience of playing the discs together is enough to dispel scepticism. [Philip Sherburne]

Q (UK):

Includes an album of ambient noise designed to be played at the same time as disc one. After 30 years of synthesizer music ranging from Stockhausen and Kraftwerk to the Aphex Twin, analog electronics now sound weathered and emotional rather than cold and futuristic. Locust mastermind Mark Van Hoen utilises the unstable textures of these old machines for his latest spine-tingling Locust album, Wrong, which echoes Cabaret Voltaire, The Human League and Tubeway Army in its shimmering instrumentation. Three years on from his underground success, Morning Light, Locust’s warped, broken-down atmospheres are giddily effective on the see-sawing Believe In The One and opening track Heal. His main collaborator is Holli Ashton, whose vocals ornament most of the album with a sensual fragility that faintly echoes Kate Bush circa The Man With The Child In His Eyes. **** [Steve Malins]

musique (net):

Mark Van Hoen and Locust are names I’ve heard before, but never have checked out unfortunately. Apparently the British electronic sound artist has released numerous side projects too (including Scala, Aurobindo and Autocreation) and also did some production work. “Wrong” is the follow-up to the “Morning Light” album, released in 1997. Five years later we get two CDs with new material, but it is certainly not the usual double-CD set. The excellent package describes these two discs as a twin CD, and not a double CD. Now whatÕs that? Simple. CD #1 contains normal songs and is supposed to be played on the main CD player; the second disc (a collection of drones) is “an expansion to normal domestic playback possibilities”, and is not supposed to be played on its own. Instead, the second disc should be played on a ghetto blaster, portable CD player or home computer at the same time as CD 1, preferable in another room. This should create the effect as intended by Mark Van Hoen. An interesting concept, now let’s try if this really works out… Mark Van Hoen wanted to create a modern electronic sound, related to artists like Pan Sonic and Hazard, but on the other hand produce the spirit of late 1970s British electronic music. Obviously, in that time they didn’t have samplers or anything to manipulate sounds like it is done today. Therefore Van Hoen didn’t use them on “Wrong”, the sounds only come from analogue synthesizers and vocals. The result is a very interesting sound, quite different from things we normally hear in electronic music: instead of perfect matches between all the sounds, Locust has certain defects in the rhythmic of those sounds, even strengthened by playing the second disc simultaneously. Mark Van Hoen is helped out by Holli Ashton on vocals, together with different backing vocalists (Lisa Millet, Tara Patterson, Sarah Peacock and Vinny Miller), most of them he has worked with in the past in his different side-projects. Holli Ashton has a very mystical voice, but also very warm. If I should mention a comparison I would say Geike Arnaert from the Belgian trip-pop band Hooverphonic. Actually the music comes quite close to Hooverphonic as well: a modern (read: with a lot of electronics) pop sound with a dark edge. It’s fun how you can play and experiment with these two discs; it’s certainly not only good music. You can experiment with the volume of the two discs, the location they’re played at, start the second disc a few seconds earlier or later… Both CDs work out well solo too. The second CD might be too minimal and isolationistic to some, but I guess the experienced electronic music lover will have no problem with that. The disc with the “real” songs should appeal to a very large audience I think, so I recommend everyone who reads this to check “Wrong” out. Browse to the Touch website for the availability in different countries. [Justin Faase] (net):

Intriguing new release from Mark Van Hoen’s Locust, Wrong is not, as the notes on the sleeve warn, a double album, but a twin CD format. Both CDs are designed to be played simultaneously, preferably in different rooms. CD1, or shall we, for our purpose, call it the main CD, contains nine delicately crafted songs, while the second presents a series of isolationist textural drones which, when listened to on their own, reveals nothing of the intrinsic beauty of Van HoenÕs music. Entirely conceived around guitar samples and electronic structures, supporting the voice of Holly Ashton (main vocals) and Lisa Millet, the songs forming the backbone of this record are made of complex layers of sounds and vocals intricately woven together to the point where they sometimes form a single element. Miss Ashton’s presence is essential to the general atmosphere of this album, pouring hot and cold on Van Hoen’s warped constructions, alternating between neurasthenic little girl and divine goddess, and constantly bringing a strange sexual underlying to the compositions. The appearance of Van Hoen himself on vocal duties on the beautiful Impossible Adventure, probably the most accessible song of the album, gives Ashton yet another chance to challenge him, this time on her territory. The sound constructions featured on the additional CD also give a rather interesting third dimension to the tracks. Whether played in perfect synchronicity or with a slight delay, this second part ensures a continuously renewed listening experience. Despite a handful of strong-minded moments, (Make A Difference, Believe In The One), Wrong is overall delicate, fascinating, and typical of previous Locust releases. Van Hoen develops further his particular blend of polymorph electronic structures that now can be traced in the work of bands such as Hooverphonic or even Goldfrapp. But the Locust mood is unique, and, with beautiful melodies, fine vocals and clever arrangements, Van Hoen’s work is set to remain out of the ordinary. Wrong does not depart greatly from its predecessors. It however shows Van Hoen at his finest, most at ease with his increasingly mechanical sonic universe, which he counterbalances by allowing Holly Ashton a place of choice here. This is future pop!

Chris Twomey (Canada):

Britain’s Mark Van Hoen follows up his critically acclaimed Morning Light album (licensed by Warners in North American in 1998) with a great new volume of dreamy synthesized “pop” starring the Kate Bush style vocals of Holli Ashton. Formerly a techno producer for the Belgian label Apollo (which first released Aphex Twin’s ambient work) Van Hoen has been working a lot with bands recently, recording albums for Scala and Mojave 3 (the 4ad label band featuring former members of Slowdive). Still, his own song-based production retains his fine feel for the ’70s type analogue keyboard textures heard in his techno and ambient tracks, even to the point of recycling the melody of 1994’s “Weathered Gate” in the new track “Believe in the One.” And giving Wrong an experimental edge is the set’s second disc of electronic drones that are meant to be played simultaneously to the vocal tracks. The effect is similar to the phase tones running underneath the music of Spiritualized, a shimmering psychedelia that only enhances these wonderful tunes.

Incursion (net):

Mark Van Hoen and vocalist Holli Ashton return as Locust on this double CD release on Touch. But I should be quick to point out that this is no ordinary double CD set. The discs are to be played simultaneously: the first disc contains the songs, and is to be played on your main system. The second disc contains drones, and is to be played on an auxiliary system; something smaller and less powerful, like a portable player or through your computer, in a neighbouring room. The music on Wrong lies somewhere between the more conventional pop structures of 1998’s Morning Light and the more abstract songs and synthetic washes found on the records by Scala, also on Touch. Holli Ashton’s voice seems trained for catchy yet compelling pop tunes; her lyrics and vocals (from sweet to bitter-sweet) are perfect fit for this music. The tunes all have those simple pop melodies that you’ll be whistling and humming for days on end, but there’s a lot of complexity hidden in these arrangements as well. All of the non-vocal parts in this music were generated by Mark van Hoen on synths. As such, the sound carries a particularly analogue or “retro” quality which is really brilliant, complex and mixed to perfection; yet at the same time the sound can sometimes seem too synthetic, as if we’re waiting for the sounds to break free from this opaque analogue cloud. Playing the two discs together proves to be an interesting experience, and adds a nice dynamic to these songs. The drones on disc two are on synths alone, and they flutter with a shimmering tremolo and weave thin lines around each other. You’ll notice the drones more when there are dips in the volume of the songs on disc one; it’s like creating your own surround sound mix of the album. On its own, disc one contains some great music; together with the drones on disc two the moods are refined and a little more mysterious. Nicely done. [Richard di Santo]

The Guardian (UK):

Wrong comes in what the record label calls a “twin CD format”. But it’s not your standard double CD: Mark Van Hoen, the man behind Locust, intends the CDs to be played at the same time, in what the liner notes call “an expansion to normal playback possibilities”. They suggest that you play the first disc, which has the songs, on your normal hi-fi, while you play the accompanying disc of sympathetic drones “on a ghettoblaster or home computer…maybe from another room” with a volume ratio of three to one. When you listen to the first CD on its own, it sounds pretty good – vaguely commercial songs with catchy hooks sung tunefully by Holli Ashton. When you add the second CD, the atmosphere darkens: in its murky lo-fi way it works very well. Wrong is orchestrated with analogue synthesisers backed by heavy synth rhythm tracks – the sort of thing that may take some listeners back to the days when music programs had to be saved to data cassettes. [John L. Walters]

Brainwashed (net):

The release of ‘Wrong’ not only marks the first release from Locust in five years, but also a rare foray into the realm of pop music for its record label, Touch. Mark Van Hoen, the driving force behind Locust, has remained prolific despite the lengthy gap between this and the band’s previous album, the critically acclaimed ‘Morning Light’. Van Hoen released numerous side projects (including Scala, Aurobindo and Autocreation), solo albums and has done production work for artists such as Mojave 3 and Sing Sing. ‘Wrong’ is a twin disc set, but “not a double CD,” as the notation printed on the second disc explains. The two are intended to be experienced synchroniously: the first disc contains the songs proper, while the second is comprised of tones and drones. Van Hoen has stated that his motivation in creating the album was to recapture the essence of the 70s British electronic pop music of his youth. He succeeds in his effort, especially in terms of the accessibility of the songwriting, but adds an entirely new dimension to the unadulterated pop melodies through his typical lush production and, on ‘Wrong’, through the use of analogue synthesizers as the albums only source of instrumentation. The electronics on the record are superbly crafted and meticulous in their detail. Beautiful beats and swirls carefully folded around one another and densely layered on each of the nine tracks. Played along with the background drones on the second disc, Van Hoen creates a profound sonic depth. Accompanying the electronics are the vocal stylings of of Holli Ashton, who appeared on Locust’s previous release. Her voice is pleasant and and versatile, infusing the mostly uninspiring lyrics with a nevertheless subtle grace. Other artists making guest apperances on background vocals are Sarah Peacock, Tara Patterson, Lisa Millet and Vinny Miller. The songs on ‘Wrong’ run the gamut from warm ballads like “Heal” and “Separate” to the hook-laiden centerpieces of “Sweet Sky” (a slightly different version of which appeared as a b-side on the “All Your Own Way” single) and the album’s most stand-out track, the phenomenal “Make a Difference.” The broader array of instrumentation found on ‘Morning Light’ such as guitar, trumpet and violin may be lacking on ‘Wrong’, but yet it manages to combine the best elements of all Van Hoen’s past works: smartly-constructed pop songs and highly sophisticated electronic instrumentation. This well-rounded and thoughtful assemblange of songs may have been a long time coming, but in the end has been well worth the wait. – Jessica Tibbits samples: (for these samples we have strategically assigned the song on the left channel and the background on the right channel). (net):

Wrong is a 2-CD set but it’s not a double album in the usual sense. Disc 1 contains the nine songs of the album (from Heal to Haze in the tracklist below). Disc 2 contains nine synthetic drones of matching length. This optional part of Wrong is meant to be played in conjunction with the first disc on a different CD player (a ghetto-blaster or computer, for instance). This gimmick does achieve occasionally interesting results but for the most part it feels superficial and triggers a disturbing question: have we reached the point where, as drones and textural electronics permeates the mainstreamin the early 2000s, they have become optional? What is worse: it distracts from what should matter, the music. Because Wrong stands as a very good album on its own. Once again Mark Van Hoen (aka Locus}) teamed up with singer Holli Ashton to record a set of strong pop songs. The quirk: everything is played on analog synthesizers — no guitars (including bass), no samples. The warmth of analog technology, cleverly used, and the seductive inflections of Ashton’s voice make a perfect couple. One thinks of early Eurythmics (minus the coldness of new wave rock), late-70s Giorgio Moroder, and a bunch of British adult alternative pop artists of the 1990s. Add to this the textural touch of Hazard or Biosphere and you’ll get a good idea of what this is about: commercial pop with mainstream production values. It must be the label Touch’s most accessible release. [Francois Couture]

The Sheffield Telegraph (UK):

The endlessly innovative Touch label, which not only deals in beautifully obscure music but also puts most record companies to shame with the quality of the packaging, does it again with this two-CD release. The CDs are designed to be played at the same time, in different rooms, the first one featuring the rich textures of the songs and synths of Mark Van Hoen and the voices of Holli Ashton and All Seeing I collaborator Lisa Millet, the other providing drones. The effect is not unlike suddenly discovering you have another pair of ears, with Kate Bush-ish Ashton being harried by a distant but tuneful wasp. And Van Hoen’s inventive music works a treat.
[Martin Lilleker]