Richard J. Birkin – Vigils

Posted: 12 March 2016 in Albums
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Reveal Records – 11th March 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Vigils comprises a suite of 11 sparse piano-led compositions. As a unit of work, its pace is predominantly sedate; the strings are subtle, graceful, and the mood is thoughtful, reflective. This is very much Birkin’s objective here, and he describes the album as ‘a soundtrack to the idea of looking back at our present from somewhere in the future’. But Vigils is not an album that cries nostalgia. It does not evoke a sense of longing for a future past. But equally, nor does it soundtrack a sense of guilt or a desire to separate from the part. It evokes the passage of time, of retrospection, of ageing, but without resorting to Instagram filters. Vigils is about time, but doesn’t set out to evoke a specific time as such, and in doing so, transcends time.

In context, ‘Accretions’ is surprisingly spirited and uptempo – that isn’t to go so far as to say it’s pop, but the rippling chords and hooky repeated motifs are accentuated with big chords that imbue the piece with a boldness that romps along in a way which is overtly accessible.

‘Moonbathing’ introduces picked acoustic guitar and harmonious vocals while a violin weaves shades of pastoral folk, while the orchestral chamber music of ‘Atomhog’ is sweet, crisp, and uncluttered in its arrangement.

Birkin explains the concept behind the album its artwork by observing that “Significant human evolution is not fast and loud but slow and quiet. So slow that you almost don’t notice it happening. Except when you look back and see changes after they’ve happened…that’s when you see the giant leaps.” Based in Derbyshire, Birkin formulated the album secluded in his isolated residence in an old mill, itself an artefact from a bygone era repurposed for contemporary living.

And while we – that of course is me speaking on behalf of an assumed section of the population right now – often speak of the unbridled pace of change, in real terms it’s all relative. Mobile phone models and laptops may change faster than you can blink, but that’s only superficial change. Lifestyles, attitudes, the big things, change much more gradually, almost imperceptibly. And indeed, it’s during those imperceptible, gradual changes, that the leaps occur.

I daresay that no-one living in the Industrial Revolution felt as though they were living in a period which would come to mark a pivotal period in human history, just as those living in the inter-war or post-war years we likely too busy simply living to consider the present as a period. Similarly, growing up in the 80s never felt like the dawn of the digital age or late capitalism, and there’s very little obvious difference between pre- and post-millennial life as it goes. But in the present, the eighties feel like another life, the sixties and seventies like historical fictions.

Time is but a construct measured in lived experience, and subtly, subliminally, by implication and by simply side-stepping stylistic trappings of past, present or imagined future, Richard J. Birkin captures all of this in a beautiful, poised and soothing collection of work.

 

Richard-J-Birkin-Vigils

Richard J. Birkin Online

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