Lena Platonos – Gallop Lp
Lena Platonos seems to be one of those serendipitous discoveries that blindsides former stabilities of expectation of what was made and what was possible at a certain time. Produced in the midst of a prolific period in 1985, ‘Gallop’ is both of it's time and beyond it. Although the synth tones and chirruping clicks of an 808 drum machine situate this very much within the ever swelling coldwave canon, there’s something ineffable at play which establishes a contemporary quality, as if Platonos was prematurely stretching the emanations of her synthware to modern predilections.
‘Gallop’ is a transmogrification of the kind of drum machine synth-cha-cha perfectly distilled on Antena’s ‘Camino Del Sol’, as if the sun-dappled hues, recumbent reflectiveness and secluded senses of that LP have been transported to a city at night; one of twisted, expressionist shapes and noir shadowplay.
‘An Unsolved Exercise in Physics’, recently compiled on the illuminating retrospective ‘Into The Light: A Journey Into Electronic Music’, opens it all with off-key dementedness clanging at its core. Flat notes spill out after a nippy, scampering escalation of bleeps. Considering Platonos’ stationing at the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation in the 70's (a former now abolished and renamed Greek equivalent to the BBC) it’s not wildly imaginable to speculate that these particular slices of hyper, retro-futuristic processions would suit TV and radio in the same way that Delia Derbyshire’s Radiophonic explorations did, in the process infiltrating modern perceptions of what the future – and its sound – could resemble. Like Derbyshire, Platonos followed her own path even when involved in such an institution, self-producing most of her first broadcasted show ‘Lilipoupoli’. The sense of someone very much focused on their own explorations is reflected in these productions. They diverge often, as exemplified by the rest of this opening, with a kitschy, theremin-like crookedness continuing at the tracks base, until there’s an eventual culmination in the form of a brusque proto-jack that delivers it from library music curio to the kind of strange dance floor contagion that Saada Bonaire offered on their esteemed, self-titled 2013 reissue.
‘What’s New Pussy Cat?’ continues in much the same vein, the vocals sung this time, full of operatic high notes and a more affected sensuality instead of cold, unhurried recitation as before. The pace is more directly maintained too, in a grid-like regularity that mirrors some of the mathematical graph imagery displayed on the artwork. Even with her prescient and otherworldly treatments of 80's technology, these first forays prove fundamentally suited to the dance floor. Whether or not that was consciously intended is unclear but the contemporary dance performed by the brilliantly named ‘Happy Myller’ (a kind of sassy, hip-swinging interpretation of Merce Cunningham) in the archive music video that accompanies ‘An Unsolved Exercise…’ indicates in some way that making music to move to was more than a passing concern.
'And We Hear “I Love You”’ moves into a more gradual angst, a sequenced cruise with a drum machine reduced to one metronomic tick, and touches of existential horror defining it's gait. It’s worthwhile highlighting at this juncture that although Platonos’ vocals are all in Greek, the language barrier doesn’t prove restrictive. They add another textural layer and if anything the opportunity to construe subjective meanings – right or wrong – is preferable. Saying that, there’s undoubtedly a general air of surrealism defining them. Although Platonos often includes spoken word passages, establishing hints of the prosaic and everyday, the way they’re speedily intoned and matched with often unnerving tempos and atmospheres results in a mire of mysterious peculiarity. In this instance they’re used to quite stunning effect, with Platonos shifting from casual to stricken in the space of a few syllables.
‘Markos’ reassumes the work begun at the outset, with spare electro-percussion, luminescent effects sparkling like stardust and contorted pitches; the gothic and the sci-fi hybridised in a synth-miniature. A male voice then joins Platonos on ‘Love In Summer’; an elegant crawl of hushed laments and reinforced synth bass that has the texture of a church organ if rewired for a dubwise haunting.
At the LP’s midway point Platonos moves into more traditionally expressive balladry. ‘Rumanian Immigrants’ with it's soft, adeptly multi-layered voices comes closest to the exquisitely slight dreaminess of Antena, and its charming drum-machine drive. But as mentioned before, the mood is defined more by uncertainty than chirpy eccentricity. ‘Witches’ meanwhile has some of the expansive wonderment that pervades Vangelis’ 'Blade Runner' soundtrack, with balletic cascades of synth and glassy drone remindful of the moments when the skyline of future-LA is given full panoramic perspective. ‘The Number 9’ is similarly awed but it’s sinister shades feel more like a mesmerised paralysis than idyllic transfixion. Another male voice, this time gravelly and lower, speaks over the frozen menace, with isolated plucks of strings providing little relief of the tension. It’s more like soundtrack esoterica than synth pop, the kind that the Finders Keepers label would take an avid interest in.
It raises the curtain effectively for ‘Bloody Shadows From Afar’. Like ‘Rumanian Immigrants’ it's delicate, at least at the beginning. Platonos speaks as if engaged in profound pillow talk, her intimate sibilance echoed by the subtly drenched reverberations of her ever-accompanying drum machine. For something so halting and offbeat it's eventual introduction of dub-brawn bass is surprisingly heady, another unexpected moment of dance floor catharsis, though less manic than before; a fix for a dance floor functioning on downers and moving in a drawling, loose-limbed sway.
The track has somewhat of a cult status now (after Kunstkopf issued an extended version in a limited vinyl run) and subsequently it’s been inaccurately categorised as Balearic or New Age. Whilst its discernible as to why it’s often been classed as such – lushly cosmic as it is – it’s far too original and unfamiliarly multifarious for these classifications to properly stick. It’s a rare oddity occupying a place all of its own, completely out of orbit. It’s the pinnacle of ‘Gallop’, before the final sidle towards something more sedately resplendent in the title track, a conclusion which nevertheless maintains the consistent penchant for the attractively unfamiliar through vocals sheathed in artificially-intelligent-vocoder-isms. It ends an album of enigmatic synth pop, filmic atmospherics, experimental ambition and tightly-strung but often unpredictable coldwave on an unusually tranquil note, a departure which nevertheless provides some vague sense of narrative closure.
Yet even with this sense of final conclusiveness, the album refutes straight forward reasoning. Released during Women’s History Month and classed as a celebration of the fact, ‘Gallop’ could more easily be construed as a recovered victory for those who rue the lack of prominence female artists still experience, even in electronic music’s supposedly more progressive climate. It’s that and more. Simply listening to it makes clear why this deserves hallowed status, the kind reserved for those special records which upheave established views of the period in which they were made and neatly cohere with the current. Like the untranslated poetry of Platonos it makes sense beyond the usual; beyond it's own time, beyond words too.