SAD MAN: The Man From S.A.D.
CD | DL
Released 23rd April
Review by Gordon Rutherford
The prolific and enigmatic SAD MAN returns with another album of off-kilter electronic pearls. It’s unconventional and, in parts, discordant, but there’s never a dull moment. Louder Than War’s Gordon Rutherford reviews.
Throwback Summer is almost upon us. There will be no jetting off to Mediterranean beaches or cities of bling this year. No siree. After decades of neglect, Summer ’21 will be the one where we return nostalgically to the Great British seaside resort. It’s all about kiss-me-quick hats and cavity-inducing sticks of rock; reclining on deckchairs at the end of the pier with knotted handkerchiefs protecting our thinning pates and soaking up the inimitable sound of a man playing a big organ (saucy postcard humour, missus?). That’s the picture painted by the seventh track on SAD MAN’s latest album, The Man From S.A.D. Giuoco Piano (which literally translates as “I play slowly”) opens with that end-of-the-pier organ, instantly catapulting us back to hazy childhood memories of Blackpool, Brighton and Bognor. For a very fleeting moment, it is utterly blissful, then it goes nuts. The pace accelerates and the sound intensifies until it reaches a point of downright zaniness. The poor organist is playing to his own time signature whilst the beats are doing something else entirely.
Giuoco Piano is anything but conventional and, in that sense, it perfectly exemplifies this album. Of course, it does. There is very little that is predictable or straightforward about the work of SAD MAN. Here’s a track which translates as “I play slowly”, where he does anything but. Furthermore, the notes in the song do not appear to be following in any kind of logical sequence. The organist is on acid. The music of SAD MAN was recently described by Electronic Sound Magazine as “wonky jazz bangers”. And it is.
If there were Olympic gold medals for being musically prolific, the enigmatic SAD MAN would be Michael Phelps. Sixteen – SIXTEEN – albums in just under five years. He makes the post-Warners version of Prince look lazy. I’ve referred to him as enigmatic (it seems a common description), but I’m now going to pull the mask away a little and talk about the person. Because that might explain why he makes music like this. The guy behind the SAD MAN moniker is producer and composer Andrew Spackman. I don’t know how he does it, but he seems to operate on a different temporal dimension from the rest of us mere mortals. To begin, we have the aforementioned sixteen albums and, musically speaking, he has also had several pieces of work commissioned for numerous cultural events all over the world. On top of that, he is an outstanding graphic designer and illustrator. Oh, and he has a day job as Senior Lecturer in Illustration at Coventry University. Plus family. I can only conclude that there are thirty-four hours in Andrew Spackman’s day. There have to be points where things seem to be unravelling, spinning out of control. On the outside, it may seem chaotic, but, in reality, Spackman is always in control. Coordinated chaos.
Let’s return to the frenzy of Giuoco Piano. As I referred to earlier, that skew-whiff, off-kilter vibe is not exclusive to this particular track. In fact, it is virtually a trademark to The Man From S.A.D. It runs through the album just like the words run right through a stick of Blackpool rock. We have the anarchic conflict of album opener, The Vulcan; the crazy chords of The Shark that play tricks with your mind; the random techno of Project Strigas, a track that feels like you are on the waltzers, with so much going on that I’m not sure the human brain can adequately process it all.
Then we have the outright discord of Double. This is a tune which is built upon a series of electronic pulses that resemble a game of pong recorded at quadruple speed wrangling against a really soulful Hammond organ laying down a funky melody. It’s like the battle for Helm’s Deep as the armies of sound crash into one another. Spoiler alert: the console wins.
It’s not all chaos. Interspersed are moments of clarity, where things are, relatively speaking, conventional. Take the stunning Quadripartie, for example. Here’s a track that will induce you to get off your ass and hit the dance floor hard. A scuzzy synth combines with a rippling hi-hat to create something infectious. Crystalline droplets enter the fray, overlaying another delicious texture. However, SAD MAN cannot resist and as the tune enters the final lap, it breaks down into discordance. Plus ça change.
And then we have the album’s highlight. Finny Foot is probably the most straightforward track on the album. It is also quite sublime, with an opening melody to die for. If I wanted to show the world what a superb composer Andrew Spackman is, I’d play this. As the track unfolds, other electronic instruments join the fray, but unlike many of the other tracks, they do not seek to derail what’s currently going on. Instead, they complement and augment and develop the track further. For an additional treat, the accompanying video ladles bucketloads of exuberance on top.
The Man From S.A.D. is not a perfect album. Most of the time it works brilliantly, but not always. It feels a little overlong to me and the longest track, The Green Opal, didn’t do quite enough in its (almost) seven and a half minutes to augment the collection. Notwithstanding that, this is a big album with a big sound. It never hides. Yes, it’s often disjointed (deliberately so) but it delights and engages and keeps you thinking. And amidst the madness, it contains many wonderful melodic moments.
SAD MAN is a risk-taker, he embraces the avant-garde and always endeavours to produce something interesting that will make the listener sit up and pay attention. The Man From S.A.D. is the perfect example of that. Never dull nor predictable, it absolutely pushes the boundaries. Too many artists today play it safe and, as a consequence, everything becomes vanilla. As a genre, electronic music suffers greatly in that regard. Differentiation is at a premium. Therefore, we should be grateful for artists like SAD MAN. The world needs more like him because he is to electronic music what Captain Beefheart was to rock.
SAD MAN – THE MAN FROM S.A.D
review by - Bobby Grant
A new album arriving through your letterbox from peripatetic Bourneville sonic magician Andrew ‘Sad Man’ Spackman is always a treat. Sidestepping the surprising directional shifts of his last three projects – the oblique radio play Stories From An Island with Francis Lowe for Cue Dot, the claustrophobic Music Of Dreams And Panic for Wormhole World and his soundtrack for silent movie Menilmontant – The Man From S.A.D finds Spackman riffing off the electronic wonkiness that characterised 2020’s genius Daddy Biscuits. More melodic than some of his other releases, for the most part The Man From S.A.D has a cheerful swagger and spring in its step, exemplified by the churning electric forward motion of the standout ‘Finny Feet’ and ‘The Green Opal’. We also find Spackman experimenting with vocal textures and samples across this album, always in typically skewed and playful way (see his brilliantly obtuse soul-inflected block party jam ‘The Shark’). What’s refreshingly omnipresent, though, is his dexterous, restless ability to endlessly hop from one idea to the next without catching breath, an effect that’s a lot like watching Charlie Chaplin in the mesmerising, chaotic but meticulously arranged conveyor belt scene from Modern Times. Released April 23 2021.
REVIEW: Stories from an Island
by Dominic Valvona
The latest, and third, instalment from the newly established conceptual electronica venture Cue Dot Records pitches the unique techno and experimental visions of the Sad Man against the visceral Irish burr storytelling of the writer Francis Lowe. Cue Dot’s remit is to provide a platform for its guests to explore an ever-evolving narrative; none more so than this match-up of often supernatural, magical, violent and surreal sound-tracked narrations.
Stories From An Island sees the harebrained garden shed avant-garde (and often bonkers; going as far as to build his own apparatus to mangle and contort sounds from) composer Andrew Spackman subdue some of his more ennui-fractious and pulling-in-all-directions signature ravings for an industrial-pastoral soundtrack that emphasis, blends, remixes and sometimes warps Lowe’s Wicker Man Island narrated travails. Sometimes this errs towards the disturbing, with Lowe’s voice emerging from the daemonic on the creeping ‘Diary’ horror. God knows what kind of place this is that Lowe has chanced upon, wondered into, but it’s a realm filed with strange and weirdly described characters: imagine Paula Rego, Samuel Becket and Nick Cave on the The Third Day series island.
Review: SAD MAN and Francis Lowe – Stories From An Island
29 Nov 2020
by Bobby Grant
During the Coronavirus pandemic the debate about the importance and the power of the arts has reared its head again in the national press and on social media. Sadly this is due to a lack of funding from the British government to support the arts sector during these incredibly challenging times. The reason I raise this is down to the fact that a lot of that debate is centred on financial arguments and economic reasoning. However, every so often a piece of art comes along that reminds you of the importance of art for art’s sake and the power that such art can and should have in both society and in an individual’s life.
The album Stories From An Island by SAD MAN and Francis Lowe is such a piece of art. This album is the third installation of the excellent Cue Dot Series from Cue Dot Records. Yet again, the fact that a new, independent label is working with artists of this calibre is a real testament to the vision and quality of the Cue Dot label.
SAD MAN is the music producer Andrew Spackman whose music regularly features on national radio including on Stuart Maconie’s BBC 6 Music Freak Zone. Francis Lowe is a respected writer, actor and theatrical director who has worked on all sorts of projects from working in TV and films in LA to acting on the stage in the UK. Together they’ve collaborated to create a record of six individual stories of a strange island where magic, the supernatural and tales of the unexpected intertwine across time.
The album starts with The Ferry and immediately Lowe’s storytelling sets the tone whilst the mysterious music creates the atmosphere. There’s a dark energy which is sustained throughout the album. The narrator tells us about the brochure saying you could walk across the island in an hour but he’s been driving in a straight line for two hours. For me, that opening was so important. It instantly sets a scene of haunting surrealism and makes you want to find out more; to take this journey into the shadows. This opening story is full of strange characters and striking imagery, most notably the burning oil tanker out at sea next to the ferry our raconteur needs to catch. Somehow it creates an electronic Wickerman vibe, full of burning imagery and peculiar locals.
The next track Chance is an equally strange affair, with another broken down car, a weird house where the protagonist is hosted for tea, family histories, a daughter called Chance, a repetitive almost techno like beat carries the story along at one point and then what sounds like a ticking clock disturbs the nerves. Nothing quite makes sense but the beauty of these stories is that they can make sense if you want them to. It feels like you have a choice, to delve in and find themes, overlaps and meaning in these stories or you can enjoy them and the electronic soundscape purely on its own terms. Whilst you’d never classify this album as anything like ‘easy listening’ it is surprisingly therapeutic to just let yourself be absorbed into these curious tales.
In Teeth there is an explosion and you find yourself not on land but out at sea. Is it the oil tanker? Themes start developing – fire and explosions, teeth, children. For all the music is often dark and swirling, there are moments of exquisite fragility and tenderness buried amongst the ambient layers that form these unique performance pieces.
Diary is perhaps the most unsettling piece on the record. Lines jump out at you from the mind-bending background sound; ‘Last entry in my journal’ ‘The experiment is a failure’. The islanders are seemingly attacking his compound and it feels like a siege. The music mutates to sound like radio interference. There’s an implied violence here and it is completely gripping. The mangled music transforms again and you’re in a frenzied digital nightmare that is somehow almost consoling. As the track ends you’re left with the distinct impression that somebody has gone under – whether ‘under’ is to death, under the waves, or to some sort of ethereal underworld feels completely open to interpretation.
Lammy is different again, opening with an electronic organ which leads you into ten minutes of storytelling madness traversing diverse aural architecture and soundscape vistas. The final track Witness reminded me slightly of the Erland Cooper album Sule Skerry, as it explores the history, identity and folklore of this strange mythical island. Again, there is a mix of musical terrain here, always complimenting the story, vital in the construction of the incredible atmosphere created by this record. As the creepy jangling piano gives way to a trip hop style beat, the listener senses that the journey is almost over, and what a journey it has been.
You can listen to this album time after time and take different things away from it each time, which is why I’ve tried not to go into too much detail about each track. It’s cinematic in scope, brilliantly written and composed, and its definitely leaves it mark on the listener. Part homage to folklore, the occult and the traditions of magical storytelling, part exploration of the human psyche; ultimately it is something quite unique. Bigger than the sum of its murky and mysterious parts, Stories From An Island is an endlessly fascinating album.
Review: SAD MAN - Music of Dreams and Panic
22nd January 2021
by Bobby Grant
When reviewing music or any kind of art it is important to be honest. And so honestly, I didn’t know what to make of this album on first listen. I couldn’t piece it together in my mind and didn’t think I’d be able to review it. Then the next day I woke up with an urge to listen to it again, so I did. Bits of it started to click. That evening I listened to it again and certain tracks started to really form an identity and work on me. The album grew. It took a few listens for its form and themes to reveal themselves fully but it was rewarding when they did.
Music of Dreams and Panic isn’t an easy album to listen to. The general feel is dark and sometimes the songs come at you aggressively, with an abrasive feel. That doesn’t have to be a negative. It is an album created by an electronic producer of great skill who is no stranger to being considered an outsider and who you sense keenly feels that darkness and abrasion are sometimes necessary parts of the electronic arsenal.
The opening track Mugstar has a sense of violence and sets the tone for the dark currents that rip and swirl throughout this record. On first listen I made a note that read ‘John Cage on a bad trip’. I think it was meant as a compliment. The next track Back has an abrasive edge to it too but it really shines a light on the skill that SAD MAN brings to his work. This is a busy song, with lots of depth and lots going on but it never overwhelms or collapses under its own weight. There are bells and chimes and somehow I had the feeling of Vietnam War era Saigon in deep space. That is probably more a reflection on me than the producer.
If darkness is the shade of the album then tension would probably be one of the key themes. Like anything linked to dreams and the dreamscape there is tension and the sense that anything can happen.
Arguably the highlight of the album is The Piano Player Rises, which starts as a sort of mutant piano concert on an alien planet that seamlessly turns into a soft rave at the end of time itself. Brilliant, bizarre and perhaps the most accessible track on the album for the casual listener, it gets better every time I play it.
From Vin Werskl onwards things take a turn for the even stranger, as human drones add to the sense of unease. Flutter has a sense of choral carnage and a haunting energy that is both beautiful and somewhat disturbing.
A fascinating part of this project is that songs from the album have been used as the soundtrack for Menilmontant, a classic silent masterpiece of French cinema (1926). The film is a combination of avant-garde filmmaking and Parisian realism. What strikes me from watching the trailer of the film containing music from SAD MAN’s Music of Dreams and Panic is that the music is suddenly transported back down to earth. On listening to the album as a standalone piece of music, I was transported to outer space or a strange lunatic dream world. Seeing it as the score for that film was a very different experience and I look forward to watching the whole film avec soundtrack soon.
Music of Dreams and Panic won’t appeal to everyone and that’s fine, why should it? However, I do recommend giving it more than one listen. There is a lot of depth and energy to grapple with on this album but after a couple of listens it starts to reveal itself and there is a lot to enjoy.
Review: Stories From An Island
3 Dec 2020
Louder than War
by Gordon Rutherford
Step aside, Sir Noddy Holder. Because Stories From An Island, an album comprising six eerie tales narrated over a dark ambient soundtrack, is the perfect Christmas listen for 2020. Gordon Rutherford reviews for Louder Than War.
Ah, Christmas. It’s a time for gathering around the hearth, the roaring fire crackling and spitting and emanating warmth. It’s a time for hot mulled wine and nibbles laced with cinnamon. Above all else, it’s a time for stories that make your spine tingle.
Once upon a time (not so long ago), on consecutive nights leading up to Christmas, BBC2 would run a series of classic ghost stories, often featuring M.R. James’s chilling Whistle And I’ll Come To You and the downright creepy Lost Hearts, featuring that spooky undead kid and his hurdy-gurdy. And, of course, there was Dickens’s masterpiece, The Signalman, starring Denholm Elliott. “Hallooo down there…”
Of course, this piece is not actually a review of the work of M.R. James, although if it were I can thoroughly recommend both the collected works in book form (ideal for bedtime) and the box set for family fun. No, this is an album review, but it’s an album that has many parallels with the sovereign of spookiness.
Stories From An Island is the third release from new label, Cue Dot. The label is rooted in the cinematic (cue dots being marks placed on certain frames towards the end of a reel to instruct the projectionist to switch from one projector to another), so it is fitting that this particular release has such a visual, storytelling vibe.
The album is the creation of writer, actor, director and visual artist, Francis Lowe in collaboration with producer and composer SAD MAN (Andrew Spackman). Their story begins just over a year ago, when Lowe was driving home through the Autumn gloaming. It was a familiar road yet as the mist descended it felt alien. He suddenly felt completely disorientated. And in that momentary sense of bewilderment, he had an idea for a story. Stories From An Island was born.
Lowe called Spackman and asked if he would be interested in putting music to the words that were rapidly constituting and colliding within his head. The finished article is quite wonderful. Of course, narratives composed around eerie occurrences on a remote island are nothing new. J. Robert Lennon’s brilliant short story, The Station, bears similarity to Lowe’s vision. And, of course, there are the heavy hitters of the spooky island genre – Shutter Island and Lost. But in putting the stories to music, SAD MAN and Lowe have created something quite different with its own unique sense of drama.
The six tales on Stories From An Island are all distinct and standalone, but with subtle connections and each one revealing another layer of this mysterious island where things just don’t seem quite right. Lowe’s backstory gives us a hint to where this may have come from. His formative years were spent living in a caravan located at the foot of Ireland’s mystical Wicklow mountains, growing up immersed in the traditions of Irish storytelling. Whilst he has moved on from those humble beginnings, having landed in the UK via a multi-faceted career in film and TV in Hollywood, storytelling remains in his heart. He brings all of his experience to bear in this collection, with that perfect sense of tone, timing and choice of phrase to keep you hooked. His gentle Irish burr narrates the stories soothingly. You hang on every sentence as that voice, as smooth as the finest malt whisky (or should that be whiskey) draws you in and hypnotises you. I’m reminded very much of Cillian Murphy’s radio broadcasting voice. But beware, there is an undercurrent more akin to Murphy’s most notorious screen persona.
Francis Lowe’s voice is complemented wonderfully, for the most part, by SAD MAN’s soundtrack. It’s all dark ambient and electronic noise, creating a suitably sinister canvas for Lowe to paint his stories on to. I loved the way the music veered from discordant horror to dizzying dancefloor in a heartbeat. The ability of SAD MAN to tap into the story and build soundscapes around the milieu is quite extraordinary. It may seem a strange complement, but upon completing the first listen of this album, I could hardly recollect a single note of the music. It takes incredible technical ability to create such a synergistic interaction of words and music in the way that SAD MAN has. His composition is, almost, entirely supportive of the words.
However, that does lead me to my one small criticism of the album. In parts, SAD MAN’s music completely takes over, making Lowe’s dialogue difficult to pick up. This is particularly so in parts of the track, Teeth. Clearly, in conventional song-writing, it’s not necessarily the end of the world if the vocal gets buried in the mix at times. But on a spoken word body of work, it doesn’t really make sense. The words and the story are so critical to Stories From An Island that it’s a shame for them to be veiled in one or two parts.
It’s an awkward album to pick out specific tracks, as they intertwine so effectively as one piece. There obviously isn’t a hit single lurking in here. But if I had to signpost two tracks from Stories From An Island, I would highlight the engrossing Chance and the surreal Lammy. The opening bars of Chance are the musical highlight of the album. It’s a simple piano part accompanying Lowe’s narrative that gives way to a throbbing dance beat. It is quite sublime. As well as the musical brilliance, Chance was my own personal favourite of all the stories, as a newly employed hotel maid hunts for, and successfully discovers, the long lost first tooth of the owner’s dear departed son.
Lammy is the engrossing story of a mysterious reclusive lady of seeming ill-health who is perceived to be beneficent to the entire community. In reality she is silently, invisibly, operating as the architect of mischief and organised crime across the island. It’s a cracking story, ingeniously told, that has subtle humour in its marvellous twist. It is conveyed over SAD MAN’s soundtrack which begins with discordant white noise before seamlessly morphing into a swirling cornucopia of electronic magnificence.
Stories From An Island is not perfect. And I’m not sure it’s the type of album to take residence on your turntable (or CD player) for months on end. Then again, you could say the same for Nils Frahm or Lizzo. It’s music for a specific point in time or certain mood. But, just like those other artists, it does have its moments in your life and it is undoubtedly one of the most creative and unique collections that I have heard this year.
So, with the nights getting longer and Christmas just around the corner, it’s time to get prepared. Just as you may do with the classic works of M.R. James, get yourself comfy in your favourite armchair and pour yourself a warming beverage. Illuminate the room only with the lights from the Christmas tree. Press play and begin to absorb yourself in Stories From An Island. Close your eyes, listen carefully and allow yourself to be transported. Because Christmas is all about stories.
REVIEW: King of Beasts
1st April 2020
I think it’s pretty safe to say that Coventry’s avant-garde garden shed boffin Andrew Spackman has produced his best electronic music indulgences under the resigned Sad Man moniker. His most prolific incarnation, the former Duchamp favoured Nimzo Indian defense chess move sonic explorer has balanced an ennui for chaos with a passion for Techno rhythms and beats: even if all semblances of anything musically consistent are bombarded with constantly warped manipulations and curveballs.
Following in the wake of this year’s fully realized The King Of Beasts album is the third in the Sad Man series of radical reworks, Indigenous Mix 3. Essentially a transmogrified remix of that same LP; the original Beast tracks shimmer, burble, twist, shift and flex to a new ever-changing treatment.
Often these new mixes prove more flowing, even grooving: some could even be described as spasmodic dance music. ‘Teleprompter’ gets the party off to a twisted start; Tibetan reverberations meet woody mechanics, acid licks, Aphex girders of polygon light and dreamy iterations. The following tetchy beat generator ‘Trespass’ has some nice touches, and even reminded me of Wagon Christ at his most fucked-up. As the title suggests, and keeping at least a lingering trace of that city’s exotic atmosphere, ‘Marrakesh’ channels Orbital and LFO into a industrial spindled mooning otherworldly enigma. It’s the late and much-missed Andrew Weatherall that pops up on the mirror-y dub, Mogadon time-lapse ‘Carbonated’.
Elsewhere Chicago House rubs up against air-y wonked weirdness on ‘Kalafornia’, and A Guy Called Gerald goes into meltdown on the broken-up ‘The Physician’.
An unconscious stream of ideas and tinkering’s; remodeling hints of Warp, Ninja Tunes, Leaf, acid and breakbeat, Spackman let’s loose once more with another cracking volume of mixes. This series is proving to be amongst some of his best work yet.
REVIEW: Bus Swerve
by Tristan Bath
A new self-release by this relentlessly obscure and prolific British music maker is always cause for celebration. Sad Man ain’t sounding so sad here; rather, quirky and off-kilter, filing slabs of bass wobble and various pulsating drum loops alongside improvised electronic warbling and madcap computer melodies. The hypnotic methodologies of early Autechre or Manuel Göttsching could maybe spring to mind, but the complexities under the hood here go surprisingly deep.
REVIEW: Daddy Biscuits
3 June 2020
In May 2020, Sad Man – the alias of Bournville’s Andrew Spackman – ran a Twitter poll to ask fans to suggest the name of his next album. The options were Sad Man 13, ISO-Nation, Wonky Heights and the winner, with a cool 50% of the vote – Daddy Biscuits. It arrived in my inbox, just three months after his last release, with the description that it was a ‘wonky banger’.
Spackman has done most of the legwork for me with that, to be honest, as those two words perfectly sum up the sound of the twelve songs on this new collection. These are pieces that jerk around like they’re being attacked with an electronic music cattle prod, all quirky beats, skewed melodies and sounds that feel like they’re splintering and fragmenting inside your ear canal.
The jazz influence that can be felt on other Sad Man releases is here suppressed ever so slightly, emerging in the background on pieces like ‘Fump’ or in the coda on the icicle-sharp ‘Illustration’; instead, the only way I can describe a track like the nine-minute title track, or ‘Wonder’, or the effervescent ‘So So’ is how I imagine it might sound in the nightclub of a ship that’s about to capsize in a storm. Or a ‘wonky banger’, I guess.
Buried deep here is the minuscule ‘Water’. It’s a track that seems to pack so many disparate ideas into its brief, sixty second existence, from muted house-style riffs, deep beats and a frantic jumble of melodies that sound like a stroll around a dimly-lit games arcade.
Daddy Biscuits by Sad Man is released June 5 2020.
Words: Mat Smith