Hugs Bison
Flying In V Formation






Once you see it, you cannot unsee it: the huge step from the quasi-discovery of the Higgs Boson to the debut of Hugs Bison. Flying In V Formation is the first record of the British duo of Phil Powell and Shaun Blezard, self-released in June 2013 on a limited run of 50 CD's and limitless download versions, available to purchase and listen to in full at Bandcamp. Even a glimpse of a few microseconds at the front artwork, and the listeners seem to know what they expect… or seem to expect what they know: this is certainly a lofty field recording-accentuated dreamscape of flying birds, ethereal synths and a carefreeness that is only limited by the wideness of the sky. How prosaic. Turns out that everything is wrong! Forget about these notions, for Hugs Bison’s one-track debut of roundabout 21 minutes is a harsh beast, solely envisioned with the use of touch-based technology, apps like Audiobus and software from Korg, among others. The mood is apocalyptic and arcane, quite a surprise in the given circumstances. A conglomerate of electric touch guitars, strings and filters unfolds over the course of the track, and while I have counted three different phases through which the track runs organically, it could also be six phases or ten. But notwithstanding actual numbers, Flying In V Formation caters first and foremost to Drone listeners who dare to dive into darker territories rather than gaseous mirages. Largely improvised live, the track evolves and breathes, but not via an alatoric-contingent huddle rather than in a, to my mind, very controlled manner, with a specific leitmotif running through the arena as a golden thread. What awaits the listening subject at the end of the debut: freedom or even el(ev)ation? Let’s see where our figurative wings take us. 


All implications of aeriform mindlessness and aerial insouciance aside, Flying In V Formation launches in a subterranean cavity, or so it seems. Crunchy splutters, fizzles and snorting nostrils altogether sound like a bison browsing for fresh grass in a vaulted area. A hopeless case? Bound to earth and torn between a blazing fury and becalming pacification, the duo of Phil Powell and Shaun Blezard injects a malevolently towering yet distant touch guitar placenta in the background, its monotonous drone sound hued in gunmetal-orange colors of aggression and independence. While the insinuated bison is still grazing, the power of the guitar’s electric current increases. Darkly sanguine violin vesicles pierce through the null space, their afterglow coalescing with the reigning antimatter. Three minutes into the track, and a cleverly hidden shift has taken place: despite the reliance on the same textures and brooding mood range, Drone has turned to Glitch, with the chopped shrapnel of the stringed instruments facing the pitch-black nonentity that encapsulates all surfaces and reduces their sphere of action. It is the big bang reversed. The atmosphere is filled with gloom, a five-note gypsy leitmotif on the violin is as de trop or chintzy as it is appropriately churned and destroyed by the means of filters and additional layers. Take, for instance, the superimposition of three additional violin layers which create a rhythm (!) as if they were maraca shakers; on top of that, they sound like homicidal wasps buzzing and whizzing over the head of the listening being. The warmth of these faux-instruments clashes with Hugs Bison’s way of transforming them into supercharged electric jolts. That their tone sequences are exclusively in minor is another nail in the hopefully figurative coffin.


Drone returns shortly before the sixth minute in the shape of hazy frizzles which oscillate and bubble wonkily. And another important revelation is unveiled, namely the lift off. The textural wingspread is still designedly reduced and purposefully minimal, but the tone pitch grows grandiloquently and in a dramatically melodramatic fashion, the electric guitars create crepuscular airwaves loaded with threnody and truculence. The five-note leitmotif is still wafting in this scenery, but its tones are altered and bit-crushed, start to plink and resemble prongs. When the same melody is then played on a touch viola, it suddenly feels different, less rhizomatic and intertwined rather than freely flowing, covered in dusk. The effect is hard to describe, and rest assured that the main theme does not see its mood transformed to an iridescent effervescence, although such interdependencies between textures and melodies are definitely fathomed out by Powell and Blezard within the boundaries of Flying In V Formation. The danger-evoking darkness helps in this regard. While there is a thicket of textures gyrating and orbiting around this particular melody, it is thankfully fissured and lacunar enough to not take the focus away. There is no blurry drone dreaminess residing in the background, everything between the temporal barriers is spiky, metallic and harsh.


Deep bass accents resemble the most abysmal of classic piano tones, but could entirely derive from filtered double bass accompaniments. Whatever their true origin really is, the third phase of Hugs Bison’s long shapeshifting tune introduces the listener to the conclusion. When there are so many stringed instruments in place and their physiognomy is additionally electrified as implied by the omnipresent crackles and sizzling pops, it is time to unite Drone and Glitch in order to receive Shoegaze. True Shoegaze fans might shake their heads, for the arrangement remains full of cracks and clefts through which the desperate decay and sorrowful sustain can ooze into the uncertain distance, but the addition of classic drum kit hi-hats and cymbals as well as the increasingly incisive nature of the electric guitars at least resemble a Shoegaze-oid structure. The tone sequences rise, become more spectral and demonic, the laid-back yet pumping beat fundament maximizes tension and eeriness. Curiously enough, a counterpoint in the shape of an acoustic touch guitar is woven into the brazen phase, adding scents of bucolic-rustic bonfire echoes which, in return, refer back to the five-note gypsy theme. The outro phase kisses this Shoegaze mixture goodbye. Instead of power drones, it is the frizzling remainder of the violins that rebels for the last time until the instrument's common frequency range is crushed and torn apart into whitewashed prolonged helixes of hiss which rise higher and higher until they somewhat resemble the artwork of Hugs Bison’s debut. Blue skies, mind you, are nonexistent, the heliosphere glows in apocalyptic colors. Flying In V Formation does not end with a bang or a cinematic twist, but a last infinitesimal link to its own title. Now the birds are flying alright, watching the grazing bison from high in the sky, but any feeling of elation is adamantly annihilated.


Dark Ambient? Glitch Shoegaze? Taj Touch? Oh, the tragedy of categorizing music, with the process of categorization itself being another tragedy. Rest assured that Hugs Bison’s Flying In V Formation is anything like its front artwork. No field recording, zero chirping birds, zilch beautiful skies are woven into the arrangement. This is a dark, shady and crestfallen critter. Over its runtime of 21 minutes, the composition lightens up and reaches higher levels, but seriously, one needs a figurative magnifying glass to experience the steady but slow and prolonged metamorphosis. Done entirely with touch technology, related apps and software libraries, Flying In V Formation nevertheless sounds entirely organic when the – now it’s getting complicated – true faux simulation of each instrument shimmers through. This is often enough the case, especially so in regard to the five-note leitmotif that is supercharged with yearning, sorrow and pity, all of these being emotions that turn people down rather than elating them. Notwithstanding the crafty Drone layers, spiky Glitch needles and Shoegaze showdowns, it comes to this: Hugs Bison draw a blood-red herring across the listener’s back. Both the front artwork and the title are partially found, but then only in microscopic doses, and while a reviewer must not judge a record by its cover, I am admittedly bewildered about the – beautiful but ultimately unfitting – design choice. Luckily, Flying In V Formation is a frightening beast, a brutish-raucous embodiment of despair with a demonized level of energy. From the rough metallic shape of their debut onwards, the duo of Phil Powell and Shaun Blezard can only grow. Will this acidic-gnarly string-heavy protuberance resemble their signature sound? In which ways will Hugs Bison evolve? That’s for the British fellows to know and for me to find out.



Further listening and reading: 

  • You can purchase and listen to the debut in full at Bandcamp
  • Follow Hugs Bison on Twitter: @HugsBison.




Ambient Review 231: Hugs Bison – Flying In V Formation (2013). Originally published on Jun. 19, 2013 at