Experimental Health is The Telescopes’ 14th installment of a project, born in 1987 and with many iterations since, ever morphing and ever experimenting. The group has boasted anywhere between 1 and 20 members, but remains centred around the vision of founder Stephen Lawrie. This marks the third release through Weisskalt, a label which specializes in all things psychedelic, trance and experimental, the perfect place for this album’s electro-shoegaze melancholy, where dream-pop finds its industrial edge.
Holed up in a West Yorkshire cottage last year, Lawrie set out to make a folk album with broken toys and cheap synths (none of the instruments cost more than £50) instead of guitars. The resulting product ranges from a pop song that accidentally got put through the washing machine on Leave Nobody Behind to walls of sound that say “don’t f*** with me, I’m dangerous” on When I Hear The Sound.
Lackadaisical vocals offer explorations of the medical and morbid on Experimental Health. Topics range from dementia, to health legislation, to the title track inspired by Edward ‘Diogenese’ McKenzie, an unhoused man who was known for having spent time with controversial artist Robert Lenkiewicz. He agreed to have his body posthumously preserved and have his final resting place be beneath the artists bed.
Political critique emerges, evidenced in the evolving refrain “Let him wander, let him roam, always something’ll bring him home” on Repetitive Brain Injury. The way the phrase becomes abstracted overtime tells the story of someone let down by the very systems put in place to help.
Static and analogue pops pervade Experimental Health but don’t put you on edge, instead enveloping you with pinpricks of gentle sensation. There’s something zen about it all. Lawrie isn’t afraid to find a spot and sit with it, meditatively adding and subtracting elements, almost proving that these toys and synths have spirits of their own, that an uncanny expression of the divine lives in their emissions.
There’s something in our moment that’s craving this kind of sound, a lo-fi and nostalgic overlay of analogue and electronic sounds – think of the renewed interest in Peaches Nisker. Experimental Health is a radio transmission from a post-apocalypse set in the near past. It floats us down a sludge river of sound, but we’re doing just fine. We’ve got a raft, we’re sipping on a cute little drink with an umbrella in it and finding something peaceful, even joyful at the world’s end.