Cosey Fanni Tutti is most well known as a member of Throbbing Gristle. An avant garde collective that revolutionized industrial and noise music. Whereas many so-called punks of the time were designated to playing simplistic rock progressions, Cosey simply took us into an undiscovered world. Her guitar work presented an appreciation for eerie soundscapes and odd tonalities. Tracks like “Hamburger Lady” and “Persuasion” best show off her abilities to use the guitar as a sonic texture rather than just a conventional instrument. Throbbing Gristle as a whole heavily relied on noisy ambience to create the industrial genre that is revered today. But very few would describe the group as ambient, moreso unnerving if anything. Two years after the band’s break-up, Cosey would release the only project under her own name. A forgotten 1983 release entitled ‘Time To Tell’. In contrast to her work with Throbbing Gristle, the ambience presented here is rather ethereal and hypnotic in nature. Yet the intensity is stronger than anything she had created previously. The euphoric highs on ‘Time To Tell’ are in fact so great, that I argue this record should be looked at as one of the greatest in ambient history.
The album’s opening moments grace us with “The Secret Touch”, a nine-minute cleanse of the soul. Its first half consists of what I would describe as “audible wind”, torrents of low tones underneath elongated keyboard segments. Each moment feels lonelier than the last as musical breeze engulfs us further into isolation. Perhaps some listeners may dismiss the track’s buildup as low effort minimalism, as only a few layers of sound are present. But despite a consistency in emptiness, the elongated tones soon give way to a beautiful sonic landscape. This is certainly a massive contrast to her harsh experimental origins in Throbbing Gristle, as her whimsical guitar drones are anything but confrontational. I find the midpoint of this track to be Cosey’s highlight as a guitar player, on par with ambient juggernauts David Gilmour and Kevin Shields. But neither have reached the level of emotion this piece conveys. What perhaps creates even more sorrow is the recurring presence of an occasional horn. Not once does it feel the need to rush in, instead taking time to expand throughout the entire soundscape before exiting. A soundscape that resembles the mournful cries of a dead planet. The remnants of what could’ve been. It is impressive that such a strong atmosphere is achieved through just an instrumental track, let alone one comprising of only a few instruments.
“The Secret Touch” is slowly turned to dust, soon overpowered by the album’s contrasting title track, “Time To Tell”. It acts as a 22-minute exercise in dominance through a continuous pulse present underneath Cosey’s luscious vocal tones. The emphasis is no longer on building a rich visual, but instead a mental entrapment. Relistens during long bathing sessions provided a hypnosis that was unparalleled for me, a perfect escape from monotonous daily life. Not much can be said about this track outside of the experience gained from listening to it firsthand. On occasion the sound of radio feedback appears to bring slight variation without distracting from the trance at hand, one that continues for nearly half an hour. It is a track that resembles Throbbing Gristle moreso than any other through its use of odd electronic sounds and extended vocal passages. Perhaps it could be seen as a spiritual successor to their 1979 track “Still Walking”. Our auditory journey ends at “Ritual Awakening”, an eerie combination of each prior track’s high points. Putting both together leads us to a seductive narration over an aura of a gloomy post-dystopian world. It’s as if Cosey Fanni Tutti is God herself, having a regretful outlook on the state of humanity. Out of the three, Awakening acts as the only one to bring an uncanny and uncomfortable atmosphere, never reaching a proper conclusion. In this choice it stands out in a sea of ambient albums feeling the need to end on a ceremonious note.
A completely unique closing to a completely unique audio experience.
For any ambient listener, Time To Tell is as engaging as it is atmospheric for its ability to create a vivid universe through only a few tracks, by one woman.
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