Posts Tagged ‘Julia Kent’

Gizeh Records – GZH100 – 4th December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

I’ve followed Gizeh from their very infancy, but first encountered them via their offshoot microlabel, Loom, back in 2007: Her Name is Calla were tour support for iLiKETRAiNS and the only merch they had was a CD-R of ‘Condor and River’ in a handmade sleeve of corrugated card. Around the same time – this was the pinnacle of the post-rock explosion – I bagged a copy of Glissando’s Loves are Like Empires with an actual wax seal on the containing envelope.

I’ve since purchased, hoarded, reviewed, and obsessed over countless Gizeh releases over the following thirteen years, not least of all releases by worriedaboutsatan, Shield Patterns, Last Harbour, Hundred Year Old Man, and Aidan Baker… It’s been a joy to see the label grow while continuing to serve a comparatively small community of musicians, often cross-collaborating with one another, and operating within a broad yet overlapping field that sees their work complimenting and contrasting admirably. The fact that every release has felt special, and has placed a strong focus not just on musical quality, but presentation, with quality artwork printed onto heavy stock

It’s the singularity and keen sense of label identity from founder Richard Knox which has been consistent throughout the eighteen years since the label’s inception, and that probably explains why their 100th release, We Hovered With Short Wings, isn’t a standard retrospective compilation – although it is a compilation, that instead presents twenty-one exclusive tracks from artists who’ve appeared on the label over the label’s lifetime. This is a really strong selling point: anyone who is a fan of the bands and /or the label, will already have the releases thus far, or be working on plugging the gaps in their collections, without the need for duplication.

The press release recommends this be filed under ‘Ambient/Post-Rock/Alternative/Experimental/Post-Metal/Neo-Classical/Drone’, and while most Gizeh releases recommend similar in various permutations, the joy of We Hovered With Short Wings is that represents all genres and pretty much all possible permutations of them too.

Disc one finds Some Became Hollow Tubes’ ‘No One is OK’ make the first plunge into heavy territory, away from delicate orchestral post-rock, although to focus on this is to perhaps overlook or minimise the range of the material on offer here, and the same goes for the second disc also, which opens with a deep, ominous swell of sound: Richard Knox and Frédéric D. Oberland’s live rendition of ‘Requiem for Laïka’, and passing into a rich arrangement of melancholy strings, picked acoustic guitar and soaring operatic vocals, it more or less encapsulates the label’s house style, but then Aging’s ‘Her Mercy’ turns bluesy, and it’s followed by the megalithic eleven-minute live rendition of ‘Ascension’ by Hundred Year Old Man, which brings the bleakest of bleak slow ambient metal. And it’s in this context that you really start to get the full picture.

This compilation isn’t about what they’ve released, but what they represent, and crackles, bleeps, and slow-rippling orchestral swells abound across the span of this immense and ambitious collection. Showcasing a broad range from ambience to doom, orchestral textures and layers of detail are characteristic features for almost all of the contributors featured here. Broad, sweeping strings that strike deep into the heart are Gizeh’s signature, and this is a label unafraid of backing art rather than promoting mere entertainment. That isn’t a matter of snobbery, but a measure of their confidence to stand apart and to cater to a small, niche, but devoted audience, rather than pursuing a larger market.

It’s an approach that’s clearly served well thus far, and this compilation appears to stand as much as a statement of intent as a celebration of achievements to date.

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Gizeh Records – GZH68 – 2nd September 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Richard Knox’s musical career is marked by works which are ponderous and atmospheric. Howeevr, his latest venture in colaboration with Claire Brentnall, is distinguished by a leaning toward material which feels more focused, compositionally, and more direct. It’s all relative, of course, and Mirror Breathing is, as the title implies, a work which is hazy, misty, the songs grasping, just for a second, at the ephemeral and reflecting the moments back, refracted and rarefied. Following on from debut album Contour Lines (2014) and 2015’s Violet EP, Mirror Breathing marks a step further into dark pop territory, although dark is indeed the operative word here, and it’s clear that in Brentnall he’s found the perfect collaborator: a person with not only an amazing voice, but an equal understanding of what it takes to forge ponderous, nuanced, atmospheric music. It’s not a matter of drawing out which each brings to each composition: Shield Patterns are built on collaboration and intuition, more of a case of a creative space emerging from a collective ‘third mind’ than the simple coming together to two musicians. 

The musical backing the pair create is atmospheric, and captures elements of light and shade which contrast magnificently; dark, rumbling low-end and industrial scrapes are tempered by ethereal ambient sounds of indeterminate origin. Claire Brentnall’s breathy vocal hangs, spine-shiveringly, over the drifting soundscape. The whole production is draped in a soft-focus feel, a mist which partially obscures the shapes and forms and renders them vague, unfamiliar and ambiguous. This ambiguity and unfamiliarity is an unsettling sensation, and while the graceful vocals superficially soothe, the emotional tension and overall sonic disquiet ultimately leave the listener pulled in different directions, peering into the shadows and wondering what lies just out of view. Arrhythmic percussion echoes in the dark, detonations which send shuddering vibrations through the ground. There’s a stark beauty to ‘This Temporary Place’ that calls to mind Zola Jesus, and elsewhere, dark industrial grumbling tremors contrast with the dreamy, otherworldly atmosphere of ‘Cerulean’.

Julia Kent is an artist who has a tendency to crop up in all sorts of places and with remarkable frequency: a respected solo artist in her own right, she is also a one-time member of Black Tape for a Blue Girl, as well as performing as a member of Rasputina and Anthony and the Johnson, he cello work on three of the tracks here adds further texture to the arrangements. Ultimately, though, it’s the balance of the instrumentation which really makes the album work: there’s a lot going on, with many incidental sounds blended in, but it’s seamless and no one aspect or sound dominates at any point.

Again returning to the connotations of the title, if the image of a steamed mirror can be read as a twist on the ‘smoke and mirrors’ metaphor, then there is an element of deception in the way the compositions seem sparse, but are in fact constructed from manifold layers which form strata of remarkable sonic depth and density. The drums may be distant-sounding and low in the mix, but they roll like thunder. In Claire’s vocals, you don’t hear every word, but you feel them. Sometimes she soars so high as to be barely audible to the human ear. Sometimes, it’s less about the actual lyrical content than the delivery, and her voice as of and in itself conveys more than mere words ever could. There’s a quality in Claire Brentnall’s voice which communicates on a subconscious, subliminal level. Her voice echoes in the recesses between the beats, drifts along, enveloped in the gauze-like textures, and occupies invisible spaces between the notes. Hers is a voice which is delicate, but by no means weak; yet the strength of her delivery lies in her ability to convey vulnerability.

From the alluring ‘Dusk’ to the dolorous chimes of ‘Blue Shutters’ and the sinister depths of ‘Balance & Scatter’ with its dark jazz intimations, via the tranquil and sedate(d)‘Sleepdrunk’, the songs conjure scenes of both anguish and ecstasy and often explore the pull of existing in both states simultaneously. Haunting, hypnotic and disquieting, Mirror Breathing is an impressive work that warrants time for thought and reflection.

Shield Patterns - Mirror Breathing