It’s auspicious that Sonic Boom—the solo project and nom-de-producer of Peter Kember (Spectrum, Spacemen 3)—returns in 2020 with its first new LP in three decades. Kember’s drawn to the year’s numerological potency, and this intentionality shines into every corner of All Things Being Equal. It’s a meditative, mathematical record concerned with the interconnectedness of memory, space, consumerism, consciousness—everything. Through regenerative stories told backwards and forwards, Kember explores dichotomies zen and fearsome, reverential of his analog toolkit and protective of the plants and trees that support our lives.
Sonic Boom’s second album and first for Carpark began in 2015 as electronic jams. The original sketches of electronic patterns, sequenced out of modular synths, were so appealing that Stereolab’s Tim Gane encouraged Kember to release them instrumentally. “I nearly did,” confesses Kember, “but the vibe in them was so strong that I couldn't resist trying to ice the cake.” Three years later, a move to Portugal saw him dusting off the backing tracks, adding vocals inspired by Sam Cooke, The Sandpipers, and the Everly Brothers (which he admits “don’t go far from the turntable pile”), as well as speculative, ominous spoken word segments. His new home Sintra’s parks and gardens provided a different visual context for Kember’s thoughtful observations, and he thematically incorporated sunshine and nature as well as global protests into the ten resulting tracks. “Music made in sterility sounds sterile,” he says, “And that is my idea of hell.”
Over the vivid, calculating arps of opener “Just Imagine,” Kember nudges listeners to do as the title suggests. It’s based on a story he read about a boy who healed his cancer by picturing himself as a storm cloud, raining out his illness. “The Way That You Live,” a rollicking drone powered by drum machine rattles and bright chord beds, morphs political distrust into a revolutionary mantra about ethical living. “I try and live my life by voting every day with what I do and how I do it, who I do it with and the love that I can give them along the way,” offers Kember.
An unusually curated gear list accompanies each song, unexpected layers reinforcing the monophonic skeletons. Mystery soundscapes and grinding sweeps were teased from EMS synths, synonymous with and evocative of ‘60s BBC scoring and ‘70s Eno. Pacing basslines oscillating into warbling heartbeats came from a cheap ‘80s Yamaha. A modern OP-1 generated subtle kicks and eerie theremins, while his toy Music Modem—an unused holdover from sessions Kember produced for Beach House and MGMT—finally found its recorded home.
It’s rare to see liner notes where synthesizers rather than humans are credited (other than guest vocal stints from “co-conspirators” Panda Bear and Britta Phillips), but Kember is masterful at finding the unique personality in his machines. “I tried to find the deepest essence of the instruments & let them play,” he offers. What emerges from these considerations on technology and humanity is a honed collection both philosophical and grooving, spacious even as it fills to its brim. It’s distinctly Kember—more than that, it’s distinctly Sonic Boom.
released June 5, 2020
Equipment and computer thanks to:
Robin Wood, EMS Cornwall UK
Paps Papageorgiadis, Portabellabz BE
Steve Thomas, Digitana UK
Carlos BB, Black Sheep Sintra PT
Carlos Basto, Sintra PT
Mastered by Paul Mac at Hardgroove Mastering
Vinyl mastering and cut by
Simon Davey at The Exchange Vinyl
To all of my family, my wife and my friends past, present and future, and all of my musical co-conspirators: Panda Bear, MGMT, Beach House, The Jazz Butcher, Beautiful Happiness, European Son, La Secta, The Sirens of 7th Ave, Moon Duo, Dean & Britta, Cheval Sombre, Anthony Ausgang, Marco Papiro, Magnétophone, Stereolab, Peaking Lights, Zombie Zombie, Longstone, Labradford, Bowery Electric, Kevin Martin, Eddie Prévost, Tom Prentice, Kevin Shields, Simeon, Wooden Shjips, Delia Derbyshire, Deakin, Jessamine, Tim Love Lee, Jim Dickinson, Thomas Köner, Sinner DC, Camilla Fuchs, Ice Age, Cloudland Canyon, The Garment District, Peter Zinovieff, Fuxa, Jason Holt, Congo Hammer, Kev Cowan, Nick Kramer, David Max, Alf Hardy, Scott Riley, Richard Formby, Geoff Donkin, Casper Clausen, Toy, Amon Tobin, Dual Split, Goff Roderick, Etienne Jaumet, Spacemen 3 and all those who took me under their wing in colder times and shared generously their Love, their sounds, their lives and their experiences. Thank you for your friendship, your caring, your sharing and my learning. All Things Being Equal.
Vocals, Electronics & Processing
Buchla 208 Music Easel
Kilpatrick Phenol Modular
EMS Synthi AKS
Eventide H910 Harmonizer
Electro Harmonix Vocoder
Teenage Engineering OP-1 mk1
Thumbs Up Music Modem
Dubreq Stylophone S2
Panda Bear - Backing vocals on Just a Little Piece Of Me
Britta Phillips - Bass on I Feel a Change Coming On
New Atlantis Rugby UK
New Atlantis Sintra PT
Black Sheep Studios Sintra PT
Mixed at New Atlantis Sintra PT
Engineer - Guilherme Gonçalves
Produced by Sonic Boom
Cover concept by Marco Papiro and Sonic Boom
Artwork by Marco Papiro
This is dedicated to the ones I love
Sonic Boom was the co-founder of Spacemen 3. His other projects include SPECTRUM and EXPERIMENTAL AUDIO RESEARCH. Sonic also produces, mixes and masters recordings from his New Atlantis Studio base. www.sonic-boom.info