Enchante: Mind in Camden 2

The British duo RAP’s EXPORT arrived earlier this year like a manila envelope with no return address, the intent as cryptic as the contents. The music was a mixture of stern techno and melancholy synth-pop that, depending on where you dropped the needle, might recall ’90s trance, Dutch gabber, the ambient pianist Harold Budd, or the doleful poise of Pet Shop Boys. (There was no rap in it at all.) The songs had an uncanny way of making a coherent whole out of odds and ends; the whole thing bore an outsider’s fingerprints, as though this were music made out of pieces that were never meant to fit together in the first place. And yet: It was sleek.

White Londoners making left-field dance and indie pop don’t call their outfit RAP unless they intend to raise eyebrows; the musicians’ art-world ties suggested a knowing approach to their references and juxtapositions. (Not necessarily an ironic one, however; the music was too genuine, too affecting, for that.) Meanwhile, members Guy Gormley and Thomas Bush’s many extracurriculars—a welter of spinoffs and side projects, via the Jolly Discs label and elsewhere—hinted at a garden of forking paths that lay hidden from view. The whole thing was seductively inscrutable.

Enchante is Gormley’s solo project, and Mind in Camden 2, his most substantial release under the alias so far, is similar in spirit and vibe to EXPORT. Traversing nine tracks in 33 minutes, it weaves together field recordings, ambient sketches, and club beats in a way that flows intuitively, if not always logically. The album’s sonics aren’t all that far from what you might find on a label like Dial, Hivern, or even L.I.E.S.—the production is rooted in the no-frills sound of hardware synths and classic drum machines—but Enchante nevertheless feels provocatively out of step with the broad sweep of contemporary dance music.

The album’s materials can seem unusually spartan, the repetition particularly mind-numbing. Gormley’s got a way of making a stretch of kick drums feel like walking on hard pavement in cheap, thin-soled shoes. And on several tracks, he seems to delight in outright wrong-footing listeners, programming drum sequences of unusual lengths and then dropping or adding beats seemingly at random. These aren’t the mind-bending time signatures of Autechre; they’re beats that seem conventional until you try to count them, and you’ll wonder how math so simple could go so wrong. Sometimes, for good measure, he’ll fuck up a groove entirely, mimicking a turntable stylus as it bounces across a rutted record.

Gormley released his first EP under the Enchante alias in 2011, on Joe Goddard’s Greco-Roman label. The record was bursting with ideas—vintage house, old-school rave, grime, dancehall, dub—but its playful approach was still recognizable as belonging to the UK’s dance-music tradition. His music has gradually gotten more idiosyncratic over time. Mind in Camden 2 is nominally the sequel to Mind in Camden, a 2017 EP of minimalist house and oddball ambient, but the new record is exponentially stranger.

Like RAP, Enchante has become a medium for private obsessions, oblique snapshots of everyday life. Just after “St. Michael,” a lovely sketch for quivering organ and the kind of wordless soul-diva wail you might have once found on a 4Hero record, a fellow with a heavy London accent barks: “I want to see some more lighters, see it, come on! Come on! That gas ain’t expensive. It’s very cheap!” It’s not just what he says that’s so disorienting, it’s the way he says it, his voice dripping with derision. What the hell is he on about? The song that unfolds around him is a sad, meandering meditation for acoustic guitar and folky faux-flutes. Over a dirge-like syn-drum beat, a computer-generated voice recites a poem: “On the cold streets I find what I’m looking for/… /To scream in pleasure and in pain/To walk in the open when I choose/And to die in no one’s arms but my own.” Then the shouting man returns, still shouting. “Come on, come on, we’re holding a vigil!” It’s hard to tell whether he’s a preacher, gas-station attendant, or jungle MC, but it hardly matters: We are left in the middle of this matrix of connections, feverishly trying to make sense of it all.

For all its backward glances, EXPORT didn’t seem nostalgic, exactly—more that it was evocative of a sense of place. Mind in Camden 2, named for the London neighborhood where Gormley grew up, is too. In fact, the album is structured to take the form of a journey. The opening “Enter” sets the scene: footsteps on gravel, a steady downpour, the sound of a car door closing. Suddenly we are in the driver’s seat, rain drumming on the windshield as a navigation voice chirps, “Destination set. Planning route: To Hackney Downs Station, Hackney, London.” The car conceit returns throughout the album, as tracks abruptly break off into the sound of rainfall or freeway noise, sometimes narrated by the eerie, almost-human voice of the GPS. “Turn right,” she says at the end of the title track, and we hear the turn signal clicking; the pounding beat of the song that follows picks up the blinkers’ nervous cadence. Later, “Cleanzing Interlude” is almost certainly a recording from inside an automatic car wash—fifty seconds of whir and chug, suburban noise repackaged as a sound-art readymade.

It all comes to a head with “Vigil,” one of the few tracks that could easily hold its own in any context. That most of these tracks wouldn’t make sense outside the context of the album hardly matters; the pleasure comes from being immersed in them, carried along by the twists and turns of Gormley’s mini epic. “Vigil,” though, is a small ambient masterpiece, as moving as it is unassuming—six minutes’ worth of a single synthesizer spun through a delicate web of delay. When he’s got you fully hypnotized, Gormley brings in a contrapuntal synth melody, soft and sad. It’s as fine an encapsulation of rainy-day melancholy as I can imagine. And then, almost as though embarrassed by this moment of unabashed sentimentalism, he takes us through the car wash and finishes with “Rise to Infinity,” a hypnotic, eight-minute minimal-house jam. It feels like an epilogue to the record: our final destination, and also a reminder that, despite all the trickery and intrigue, Gormley is no stranger to purest and most enveloping of dancefloor vibes.

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