Oliver Coates – Shelley's on Zenn-La

Oliver Coates' Shelley's on Zenn-La is a study of musical form that is innovative in both its approach and experimentation

Album Review by Evan Osborne | 06 Sep 2018
  • Oliver Coates – Shelley's on Zenn-La
Album title: Shelley's on Zenn-La
Artist: Oliver Coates
Label: RVNG Intl.
Release date: 7 Sep

To unpack the relatively abstract album title, Shelley's on Zenn-La refers to Shelley's Laserdome, a once famous nightclub in Stoke-on-Trent in the late 80s/early 90s. The album was "made between the Elephant and Castle neighbourhood of London and a future dreamscape," referring to the fictitious planet of Zenn-La, which reveres the early UK rave culture of the idolised nightclub.

At times hazy and ethereal, Shelley's on Zenn-La's complexity is due to the sheer number of modulations. Coates has modulated his cello to create new harmonisations with its undistorted self. Mimicking hi-hats, kick drums and synthesisers, he's applied his instrument in such unique and nuanced ways that it's hard not to admire the level of dedication committed to its conception. It's no wonder that Coates received the highest mark ever given to a graduating student from the Royal Academy of Music.

The sheer number of layers within each song makes it difficult to pinpoint any real sense of placement, and the cello's relationship to itself, but this is one of the album's alluring traits. The ethereal vocals of A Church and the powerful narration of Norrin Radd Dreaming by Malibu complement the euphoria that bubbles beneath the surface of each track, the form constantly changing despite Coates' rigid adherence to his own rules of production.

The majority of the tracks are created in Renoise, a digital audio workstation sequencer, to create extremely specific drum sequences via hexadecimal numbers and pencil drawn waveforms. This decision works to the album's benefit, offering some semblance of structure in a release that is brimming with deep tones of modulation. It's a study of musical form that is innovative in its approach and experimentation.

Listen to: A Church, Cello Renoise