Chop made his recording debut for Now-Again with 2009’s visionary Lightworlds. Few had heard of Chop prior to this vinyl-only EP, and it was just as well: Lightworlds was a departure from all of that this Cheshire, England based multi-instrumentalist, producer and engineer had created before. Gone were any traces of groovy funk and jazz, replaced with the punishing rhythms of the Heliocentrics’ Malcolm Catto (drums) and Jake Ferguson (bass), atop which Chop indulged more of his wilder impulses, riffing on the anthemic synth rock of Yellow Magic Orchestra, the jagged edge of Italy’s prog-monsters Goblin and French musique concrete pioneers inexplicably accessible results.
But the album that Lightworlds was meant to precede took a long, winding detour. Holed up in his Ape Studios, located off a dirt road adjacent to a 19th century pub alongside an estuary that abuts Northern Wales, Chop decided he would try his hand at the nearly fifty year old – and rarely successful – quest to musically merge the organic and the electronic. Three years later, surrounded by a host of musical material – long songs and short ones, sketches and finished ideas, drums on the road to anywhere and sessions awash in synthesized soundwaves – and reeling from the passing of his father, his music started falling into himself and Chop found himself in the center of spiral.
It was then that his friend Joe Fearon, A&R for the likes of Liverpool bands The Coral and The Zutons, came by the studio to hear what Chop had been working on that he realized how desperate a plight he was in. “I’m going insane making this record,” he pleaded, and Fearon took heed. He signed on and immediately dug into the pile of music Chop had created, picking out the tracks he thought could work as an album, while still encouraging Chop to search for the perfect additions to the raw tracks. Searching for voices, Chop found that his own voice – when processed through a WWII era bomber pilot’s reconditioned microphone or deconstructed via an early Texas Instruments computer – became an essential, ethereal element as likely to fall on the analog as the electronic side of his album. The need for a lead guitar lead to a call to The Coral’s Bill Ryder Jones, who leant a powerful 70s rock sound to the proceedings. And searching for the inspiration to tie the songs together took Chop and Fearon through the rest of Chop’s record collection – from hip hop to disco to new wave to minimal synth – but they really didn’t need to look further than across the estuary, where a 19th century power station still cackled with life, giving the pair a the nostalgia for a the past’s hope for the future – a retro-futurism, if you will – which pulled them through the album’s final stages.
In the end, Illuminate – cribbed from the title track “Illuminate All Voltages” – came into existence to help Chop silence an accelerating neurotic world and soothe the pain he felt with the passing of his father.
Chop makes sweeping yet intimate musical statement, ones which can pound with a jackhammer’s pulse at one moment, then slink into the dark serenity the next. He desires for a future in line with the past’s naiveté, hopes for a more perfect tomorrow and, more often than not, ends his musical declarations by flipping the switch, leaving his listener left in the black, until he chooses to start the cycle again. And when he does, he finds that calm in the chaos of a not so perfect world, and empowered to dream for a better tomorrow again.