- Tom Middleton channels his Global Communication project on an avant-garde, orchestral techno album about finding new planets.
- Tom Middleton's latest project, GCOM (Galactic Communication), is a remodeled extension of Global Communication, his '90s ambient techno project with Mark Pritchard. A decade in the making, GCOM's behemoth 20-track triple-LP E2-XO showcases Middleton's range as an electronic musician and sound designer. The title refers to his notion of eventual human migration towards potentially habitable planets—"Earth To Exoplanet"—and he envisions the LP as both "a space opera" and a "psychic investigation of the human mind in space." What that means in reality is Middleton's most expansive work in years, moving gracefully from IDM to downtempo breaks to drum & bass.
E2-XO takes the listener on an interstellar journey split between orchestral rhapsodies and often challenging IDM cuts. Some tracks make use of acoustic instrumentation—flute, violin, strings—and field recordings, while others are filled with intricate and glitchy beats that call to mind early Richard Devine or Aphex Twin. (Middleton's roots are deeply entwined with Richard D. James and other British contemporaries like Matthew Herbert, who were early collaborators.) But Middleton cites French IDM producer Qebrus as his primary influence, and the LP is something of a tribute to him.
Qebrus, an enigmatic artist with a cult following, was best known for his forward-thinking and alien-sounding electronic music. Before his death in 2018 he worked on two of these tracks, including the second track "XO Transmission #1" which thrusts us into E2-XO's universe after the orchestral opener "Noctus Ultimus." The effect of going from strings and horns to frenetic, blasting beats is like hurtling through a wormhole to a new dimension.
With its heavy conceptual subject matter and 90-minute runtime, E2-XO is a massive undertaking, but Middleton pulls it off. The layout of the LP is intentional and dynamic, separated into two distinct halves. The first is the initial voyage through space: full of hope, curiosity and courage, with some of the LP's more approachable sounds and grooves. "Anthropocene" is a downtempo, dubby cut soaked in stormy field recordings, while "Ocean Dreams" is an airy track that centers a Shakuhachi-type flute. "The Last Rains V" is composed of knotty breakbeats and cascading synth sparkles with an eerie cyborg voice.
The second half could be characterized as the destination. The majority of tracks on the album's second act share an "XO" prefix, and are named for actual recently discovered exoplanets. These representations of potentially habitable worlds make for some of the most enthralling sounds on the LP. "XO4 Wolf 1061c" is a clear standout, a hard-hitting track that exists somewhere on the drum & bass spectrum, as growling synths blend with a scathing 160 BPM rhythm., while"XO6 LHS1723 b" is the closest thing to techno on the album. Then there are the three "Transmission" tracks, which are brief, arrhythmic but not ambient interludes. Their complex synth garbles are like Martian transmissions, spoken through the language of IDM.
The album winds to a close starting with "XO7 (Teergarden b)," named for the planet with the best-known potential for habitation—so, naturally, it's buoyant and Earth-like, ending with the sounds of rain. "Midnight Shore" is equally stunning, with gently babbling water smoothing out the rugged textures of the LP's XO segment, channeling what Middleton says was the "wonder, humility, gratitude and reverence" he felt when stargazing as a child. A 14-minute ambient ode to staring into the sky, "Beyond The Milky Way," ends the E2-XO on a beautiful note as glistening synth tones coalesce and dissipate.
"Beyond the Milky Way" circles back to the album's larger concepts—not only space exploration, but our ability to survive our own destructive tendencies. E2-XO is a lengthy and ambitious record, rooted in the need and desire to transcend the self, much in the way the LP transcends genres and lands on its own all-encompassing sound. It's a concept worth contemplating as we journey back to the silence after the album's close, through the void and back to our home planet.
01. Noctis Ultimus (Epic Mix)
02. XO Transmission #1 (GCOM x QEBRUS)
04. Ocean Dreams
05. The Last Rains (V Mix)
06. Starship Launch
07. Beyond The Singularity
08. Helix Nebula
09. Noctis Reprise (For QEBRUS)
10. XO 1 (Luyten b)
11. XO 2 (Kapteyn b)
12. XO Transmission #2
13. XO 4 (Wolf 1061c)
14. XO 5 (TOI-700d)
15. XO 6 (LHS1723 b)
16. XO Transmission #3
17. Planet B Awakening
18. XO 7 (Teegarden b)
19. Midnight Shore
20. Beyond The Milky Way