Felicia Atkinson’s Hand In Hand continues what began with 2015’s A Readymade Ceremony. Smudged in the creamy swirls of light that spray-paint the Milky Way, and sometimes even stepping from one world, or one genre, into another, Atkinson’s music is an experimental expedition which unravels chapter by chapter, and as it does so it asks challenging questions of the listener. Her spoken word passages could have been recited from the pages of a science fiction novel, but her subjects are rooted in science, a birthmark’s continent on the skin of reality.
Opening track ‘I’m Following You’ dwells in the dark caverns of a sheltered place, but its soft and playful tones are swamped in layers of warm reverb. The notes quietly crawl into a secluded corner that only fits a couple of people at a time: both artist and listener are in on these intimate secrets, this first contact, sharing thoughts through the transparent ripples of telepathy. Atkinson draws you inside with a romantic and yet otherworldly sound that has one foot in the spacey, electronic explorations of the late 70’s and early 80’s and one foot in another, unseen dimension, treading on the red, crayon-coloured soil of an alien world. The music’s traversed intergalactic deserts and its signals have only now reached this tiny rock. Slipping, pre-recorded vocals are lost in a failing loop composed out of stuttering glitches and dark insights. Reality is warping, going wrong in some fundamental way, and a queasy feeling that nothing can ever be the same again permeates every second of the album. Her voice is a heartfelt message to a future generation as either an apology or a last-ditch attempt to atone for our sins.
Hand in Hand alters the chemical composition of the physical Universe in some way, shaping it into a surreal and mind-bending thing. In this reality, lovers are constantly breaking up, things once positive are erased, and sweet nothings return to nothing. Life doesn’t imitate Hollywood; it doesn’t work like that. Those golden sunsets are often bronze illusions, painted imitations hanging in front of a boulevard’s blackening sky, obscuring the truth of things…looking like mirages in arid deserts. Strange things lurk behind the pages of her fiction. Her experimental sounds are soon ready to spawn, hatching by a stream of running water, and Atkinson’s role is like that of an intrepid biologist who recounts her findings and records them straight to tape. Seemingly disunited tones are visible on the surface, but the notes do join hands; as they group together, they form uneven, warbling lines, a chain link fence built out of odd angles.
The record’s authenticity is embedded in its digital stutters and its Martian-like chimes, in its gurgling eggs and its rocketing bass-lines. On “A House A Dance A Poem” the bass fires off like a NASA space shuttle, its lunar ETA about four days later. Other notes emit lasers of neon green and sultry red, while others display the perfect chrome sheen of a flying saucer’s shell. A sentient being stomps over “Vermillions” against the backdrop of Atkinson’s recurring words and a distant, Sunday morning bell calling all ye faithful to church. The track is made out of malevolent electronic circuitry and is slightly disorientating, but the very human aspects of sexuality and emotion weave throughout the music, too, like fragile seams holding up fine silk, giving her music a human heart which adds rather than subtracts from the experimentation. Similarly, science isn’t sterile or inaccessible but exciting and full of human achievement. It affects and influences everything, from our daily lives to the running of the Universe. Whether we’re nosediving into the abyss or aiming for redemption, we sit, for now, in the centre of it all, hand in hand…in unity.