Posts Tagged ‘minimal’

Misanthropic Agenda – 20th June 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

I’ll admit, I was struck by the name when this landed in my inbox. Success! With an insane number of submission emails day, I don’t even open most, let alone play the albums attached. But then I learned that PWIS is Nathalie Dreier – who’s interesting for her visual work as well as her audio – and Dave Phillips, who’s To Death I covered last year – which deepened my intrigue. And it’s one hell of a cover, too.

Meaning What Exactly? is quite a different proposition – from pretty much anything, in truth. Presenting four lengthy compositions, it’s fundamentally an electronic album, but it’s far more than that, or anything. The title is a challenge, a query, a – what I keep hearing as a phrase in my corporate dayjob – a ‘provocation’. It comes down to ‘exactly’. The word is weighted; even without explicit emphasis, it feels emphasised, vaguely stroppy even. The addition is the lexical equivalent of a hand on hip, a raised eyebrow, a scowl, a sneer of condescension to a worker from another department who has no facts. ‘Yeah, do your research, bitch’, is what it says.

And who really knows what it means, or what anything means? Exactly. And what this album means – exactly – I can’t quite fathom. The titles conflict with the contents, at least, based on my lived experience, on my reception. They say it’s a ‘dialogue mixing treated field recordings with organic acoustics and digital sources, brought together in long trance-inducing sessions of meticulous audio de/construction and philosophical debate’. But how much of that is apparent in the end product? Well, that’ debatable.

‘Pangolin’ is otherworldly eerie: a booming drum echoes out through a shifting reverberation of spine-shaking synths. It doesn’t readily evoke aardvark-like creatures, apart from perhaps in the final minute or so when Drier’s monotone vocals are replaced by snuffling barking sounds. It’s weird, but then, what did you expect? I don’t know what I expected, if I’m honest, but probably not this. This is dark, disorientating, disturbed and disturbing, and even more challenging for the absence of context. Meaning is the end product of intent, of purpose, and there’s no clear indication of where this is coming from, meaning we’re left to face the strange with no guidance.

A grinding bass and muffled, muttering voices, whispering about fish all build to a hellish tumult of murmurs and doom-sodden low range hums and thrums, and nothing feels right. It’s awkward, and unsettling. You – certainly I – don’t really tune into the words delivered by Drier in her suffocating spoken word passages, not out of disregard or disrespect, but because all of it comes together to create a claustrophobic listening experience. Meaning What Exactly? is not an album you sit and dissect, or sit and comfortably disassemble or analyse. I find myself, instead, contemplating the meaning of meaning.

‘Us vs Us’ plunges into deeper, darker territories, with a grinding, driving bass worthy of Earth, propelled by thunderous sensurround drumming, with purgatorial howls echoing all around. It’s heavy, harrowing, and it’s that simple, tribal drum style that defines and dominates the eerie eleven-minute closer, ‘The House is Black’. The house is black and the atmosphere is bleak: the vocals are mangled and distorted and play out against a murky, fragmented, fractured backing, to unsettling effect. The beats are sparse, subdued, distant, yet taut, crashing blasts and ricochets. You make it want to stop. The clock is ticking. Your chest tightens. The nerve rise, jangling, fearful. It’s like walking through a graveyard at night, knowing there’s someone lese shuffling around nearby. Make it stop, make it stop!

A crackle, a crunch. What is this, exactly? Perverts in White Shirts don’t only excavate darker domains, but scour and gouge their way into the darker, deeper territories where tension pulls tight and tighter still. It’s the sound of trauma, of suffocation. Meaning it feels like a direct passage to the depths, meaning it’s dark, uncomfortable, like it’s almost unbearable at times. Meaning it’s good.

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17th April 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s something quite surreal about the imagery of ‘eye gymnastics’: it’s highly visual, yet at the same time, beyond physicality, and as such, it possesses a cartoon-like quality. This surrealism extends to the cover art, too: what exactly are we looking at here? It’s the debut album from a Lithuanian duo consisting of Viktorija Damerell and Gailė Griciūtė, who first came together in 2018.

And so it is that these clues are also representative of the music: the words are strange, fragmented, abstract – but also not, with improbable and incongruous images, and the album’s first piece, ‘Eye Gymnastics’ could be something of a signature tune for the pair. It’s sparse, the beats subtle, distant, subdued, yet insistent as they pulse through eddying swirls of semi-ambient synth drifts, through which a spaced-out, vocal dreamily intonates lyrical abstractions. If surrealism has a certain preoccupation with dreams and the subconscious, then on Nothing Supernatural, Eye Gymnastics plunder that inner realm for inspiration and render it in such a way as to remain to the vagueness, the indistinct focus of the fugue state, the disconnects and strangeness of dreams, and recreates the way those sensations and images echo, hauntingly, in the waking hours which follow those most vivid of nocturnal experiences.

The title feels vaguely ironic in the context of the disconcerting, dislocated vocal treatments of the ominous and eerie ‘Tree Tops’, where a glitchy, industrial beat clatters in thick and leaden. Then again, it’s dark pulsations feel as much the product of a troubled mind as of anything supernatural.

While there are some significant leanings towards ambience and hypnotic drifts imbued with an ‘otherly’ feel, elsewhere, snarling, growling electronics dominate a number of the tracks, with ‘Sadness and Joy’ being really quite heavy, with a gloopy bass that whips and whirs and fizzes. ‘You Destoy Me’ epitomises this industrial darkness: the murky drumming pumps away with the palpating tension of Nine Inch Nails’ ‘March of the Pigs’, while the multi-layered vocals whisper and echo dark thoughts, and the relentless pulse of ‘Let it In’ is harder and harsher still, the bass drum a booming throb, the snare – such as it is – a smash of distortion. You don’t want to let it in: no, you want to shut it out, make it go away. It’s not pleasant, it’s uncomfortable, claustrophobic, suffocating. Sparse and spooky, ‘Bitter Night’ bridges the territory between Young Marble Giants and Throbbing Gristle.

It’s unsettling, a creeping burrowing into the brain, as if overhearing someone’s internal monologue. This is not what you’d really call a ‘relatable’ experience, at least for the majority. It’s not full-on horror, but it is chilling, challenging, eerie, unsettling. But it’s also compelling, hypnotic, and a quite remarkable debut.

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Crease is the debut full-length album of deconstructed electroacoustic postpunk songcraft by Montréal guitarist and producer Kee Avil, whose touchstones range from Scott Walker and Coil to Fiona Apple; (early) PJ Harvey and (later) Juana Molina to Eartheater, Pan Daijing and Smerz—or like Grouper produced by Matmos.

Chiselled twitchy minimalist guitar, sinuous electronics, industrial and prepared-instrument micro-samples, furtive rhythmic propulsion, all galvanised by the anxious intimacy of finely wrought lyricism/vocals: Crease is one of those debut records that excites a wide range of peerless references precisely because it’s so compelling and convincing in its own idiosyncratic originality, vision, detail and execution.

To coincide with the album’s release comes the video for ‘HHHH’. Watch it here:

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Constellation – 11th March 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Kee Avil isn’t an individual, and isn’t really a band, so much as a concept, a collective, a project, the brainchild of Montréal producer and guitarist Vicky Mettler. Debut album, Crease, is pitched as ‘a singular expression of fractured dream logic concretized in chiselled postpunk guitar, sinuous low-end electronics, a panoply of organic and digital micro-samples creating alternately twitchy and propulsive rhythm, and the anxious intimacy of her finely wrought lyricism and vocals’.

It all sounds pretty grand and sets expectations high. Thankfully, Crease doesn’t disappoint. To manage those high expectations, let’s get it established here and now that it’s not a conventional album, with easy songs with obvious or accessible verse/chorus structures.

‘See, my shadow’ starts out with hints of early PJ Harvey but swiftly spins into industrial post-punk with electro/hip-hop beats, more akin to Lydia Lunch fronting Coil remixed by Portishead. It’s a lot to happen in the space of under four minutes, but then, that’s par for the course here: Crease is as jam-packed with ideas as it is sonic strangeness. It’s not an easy album to get a grasp on, and Mettler comes across as quite otherly. Some may say crazy, unhinged, but it’s not that. It’s just apparent she exists on another plane, and Crease shuns conventional structures in favour of exploring avenues of songwriting that more closely reflect an alternative vision and concept of ‘songs’. I certainly don’t mean that as a criticism, but equally, don’t want to sound like a wanker by saying that this is art and therefor superior. I mean, it is superior, but not because of that. To unpack that a bit, Crease is clearly the product of a quite specific mindset, and a determination to find a means of articulating. And sometimes, to articulate is to go beyond language and beyond conventional musical structures. As such, what Crease articulates is a separation from the rest of the world, the turmoil of the mind, the duality of the internal monologue.

‘Drying’ is sparse, glitchy, a clicky clatter and pop of percussion providing an erratic framework for the incidental instrumentation and slowed-down, opiate-haze vocals that are at once sultry and threatening.

‘And I’ is a sparse, scratchy acoustic guitar-based song; the tense picking at times calls to mind early Leonard Cohen, and the atmosphere is muscle-tensingly taut. It’s a masterclass in how less is so much more, and as Mettler’s breathy vocal arcs over the spindly fretwork, a kind of magic happens in the way it draws you in with a hypnotic sensation. ‘Devil’s Sweet Tooth’ lunges and sways, violins teeter on the brink of a breakdown

It’s often difficult to make out the actual lyrics, so you lean in closer in an attempt to get your head and hands around them. You fail, but you’re drawn in closer to the dissonant strangeness that’s more than just music: it’s a world of disconnection and dislocation. It’s unnerving, alien, but likely better than this one right now.

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Sub Rosa – 26th November 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

In the scheme of Ghédalia Tazartès singular career, which saw him featured more prominently in dance, theatre, and cinema than on record – a career spanning back to the mid-late 70s yielded just thirteen albums – this release is significant in several ways, not least of all in that it contains probably his final recordings prior to his death in February 2021 at the age of 73. It follows his last album release, Superdisque, which was released a full decade ago, in 2021. It also documents a collaboration that almost never happened.

As the story goes, ‘Tazartès and Chatham had met once in 1977 at CBGC’s and had not seen each other since then when they were asked by their mutual agent to play a private show in Paris. This happened in September 2018 in a house with a garden where sax player Steve Lacy had lived back in the 1990s. This album presents the recording of this show plus another show at La semaine du bizarre festival in Montreuil, France a year later, mixed with a couple of studio sessions.’

Their coming together yields something – and I’ve struggled to find a word that comes anywhere near describing what others have simply classed as ‘indescribable’ and ‘unclassifiable’ – most otherly. Tazartès singing is, in itself not only unique as a style, but also as an experience. It’s less about what it conveys as such, and more about how it touches you. It’s certainly not singing in the conventional sense; and yet, it is very much musical, rather than mere vocalisation. Tazartès sings from different parts of the body, and his voice tremors and quivers, trills, gargles, and ululates.

On the four parts (or ‘actes’) of the ‘Jardin de Simone’ performance, Chatham’s sparse, minimal backings provide a shimmering backdrop that ripples and glimmers softly. On ‘Acte 1’, it’s chiming notes, picked, on a clean electric guitar, while on ‘Acte 2’, it’s wavering woodwind which accompanies Ghédalia’s soft croon. Scraping strings create a dolorous discord alongside a wailing, weeping, skittish vocal performance on ‘Acte 3’ while the fourth and final piece floats into the atmosphere in amorphous waves if sound.

The three parts which make up the ‘Semaine du bizarre’ set are quite different, with Chatham’s backing on the ten-minute ‘Acte 1’ being denser, the electric guitar rattling and with strains of feedback filtering through the stuttering notes. The stutters are not of hesitation, but of tightly-reined tension, and over time the form evolves into an elongated tapering drone. The vocal adopts an almost falsetto-range droning quality, at times shifting to a guttural throb, at others, an open-throated note sustained on, and on. Woodwind drapes and twists around like fingers of mist. In combination, it feels mystical, in an impenetrable, occult way. Overall, this set is more drone-orientated, Tazartès’ vocals venturing more toward the lower register, the growlier, the more atonal. And yet, in places, he soars almost operatically, albeit descending like a punctured bellows after, while the instrumentation wheezes out, fatigued.

The vinyl finds a performance on each side, while the digital version features a bonus cut, appropriately entitled ‘Encore’. This, too, is quite drone-orientated, with the addition of a certain hint of an Eastern twang.

As a whole, Two Men In A Boat feels like a meditative work, and one which exists out of any kind of context, real or imposed. Without any constraints in terms of structure, culture, time, place, or even meaning – explicit or implied – the performers can be found revelling in the freedom of musical explorations. These are songs of the soul, and Two Men In A Boat is a unique document.

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Bearsuit Records – 12th November 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s unusual to open an album with a B-side from the lead single, but there’s nothing usual about Eamon the Destroyer or Bearsuit Records, and the scratchy soporific drone and distorted / filtered vocals of ‘Silver Shadow’ – which reference the ‘small blue car’ to which the album owes its name – makes for a worthy introduction by means of introverted minimalism. It’s largely representative of an album that’s slow sparse, minimal and somewhat lugubrious.

I take the nom de guerre Eamon the Destroyer ironically. That may be wrong, it may be some unpleasant prejudice, and if so, I do apologise. This isn’t a PC matter or issue. But names come with certain associations, and the connotations of Eamon aren’t particularly warlord, at least to my mind. No diss to any Eamons, but the name is about as warlord as Gavin, Kevin, or Craig. No doubt there are some brutal twats by the name of Kevin, but, well, y’know, it doesn’t evince fear. The concept of ‘the destroyer’ is one of something harsh, brutal, obliterative, too, but that also isn’t the case here. Consider Ah Puch the Destroyer, Mayan god of death and disaster whose coming would mark the end of days. There is nothing explosive or devastating about A Small Blue Car – it is not a violent sonic blast of earth-shattering, annihilative proportions, yet it does, strangely, evoke a sense of near-finality. There is an all-pervading sadness that hangs over the album’s entirety, a sadness that’s slow-creeping and heavy, like a weight that pulls you down, bending your back with the effort

‘Humanity is Coming’ is downbeat, gloomy, and things get particularly dark and dense on the short instrumental ‘The Conjuring Stops’, with a heavily phased synth yielding a pulsating throb in the style of Suicide. ‘The Avalanche’ also brings some weight, with lots of granular sounds and bolds bursts of sweeping synths in the choruses that contrast with the woozy drone and is perhaps how Leonard Cohen might have sounded in the early years of his career if he’s chosen Moods instead of an acoustic guitar. The end result, musically, is like Stereolab on Ketamine.

The slow rasp of single cut ‘My Drive’, with its whistle of feedback and detuned radio in the distance while the picked guitar – spacious and delicate – curls like smoke into the darkness, and it piles on the melancholy.

‘Uledaro’ follows, a dolorous jumble of discord. ‘Nothing Like Anything’ is conspicuous by its near-cheeriness ‘wake up / the sun is out / we’re almost home’, Eamon intones in a rare glimmer of optimism. There’s whistling and levity, and it’s almost, almost a pop song. But of course, it’s not. And perhaps it’s more me feeling autumnal, but the happiness only accentuates the sadness, as if the jollity is a mask to sorrow so inexplicably deep that it has to be covered up. The nights are dark, the world feels a very long way off and a long time ago. It’s time to hibernate, with A Small Blue Car for company.

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Mongkong Music – mkng-01

Digital release date: 4th June 2021 / Physical release date: 4th July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Having been introduced to the world of microtonal experimentation around a decade ago, I’ve found a certain fascination in those close lenses on the most minute of details – the musical equivalent of peering through a microscope and seeing objects and life forms on a granular, even cellular level. I’ve also learned that anything that can be rendered or viewed from a micro level, it’s probably been done, or otherwise is within someone’s sites to do, or I simply haven’t found it yet. Take, for example, the ensemble Microtub – not a small bath, but a trio of microtonal tubas.

Mycrotom is not a microtonal tom drum, nor a microtonal extension of the work of the Vegetable Orchestra (a ten-piece collective based in Vienna who make music using instruments crafted from actual fresh vegetables). In fact, the moniker is somewhat misleading, for as the press release notes, ‘Tom Simonetti alias mycrotom has created rather large-format sound carpets in the Bertolt Brecht mechanical engineering city of Augsburg. He now presents the same: soundscapes on which you can go out of work and walk away.’

So, it’s actually about sound carpets. I have to confess that I chuckled a little on reading that, before reminding myself of my own habit of describing works as ‘sonic tapestries’ and going into detail about the ‘fabric’ of numerous compositions – and that was before I listened to the album.

The pieces are built on interesting juxtapositions – sparse motoric beats click metronomically through gloopy synth basslines that could have been lifted off early 80s electro cuts on Wax Trax! while xylophone-type chimes ring out lilting motifs. Extraneous sounds are looped to forge unusual rhythms, and there’s a muddy, murky aspect to the sound that makes it difficult to separate the different elements.

Many of the synth sounds are vintage in style, squelchy, thick, fuzzy-edged, and while the arrangements are sparse, the effect is far from minimalist: there’s quite some density to the sound, and what’s more, a lot of Ratoratiyo pursues quite danceable grooves, and with a hybrid of 90s minimalism and 80s robotix, it feels completely removed from anything human.

‘Logic by Machine’ contains human voices – sampled, distanced, detached – against a sparse, rhythmic loop. It’s anything but comforting, and leaves one feeling even further adrift, alienated. It’s a strange experience that twists at the cognitive filters in unexpected ways. After all, none of the elements are new or particularly unusual – but their assemblage is, and in ways that are difficult to place a finger on. And it’s that difficulty of placement that lies at the heart of the challenge for a listener. You ask yourself ‘how does this fit with my experience?’ and ‘where do I belong in all of this?’ There are no handholds or footholds in terms of emotional resonance, in terms of experience. And precisely what does this convey? The sounds may be warm, but the experience is somehow cold, with a sense of separation.

It’s from this place of distance, a position of removal, isolation, that we begin to explore the spaces of Ratoratiyo, and the exploratory adventure begins.

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Edelfaul Recordings – 5th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Just as you should – at least ideally – never judge a book – or an album – by its cover, so you should never judge a musical project by its geographical origin, or judge the population by their government. This is particularly important as a point of note right now, and especially in context of this release. At home, we’re often led to believe that arts are of a lesser importance in the face of a pandemic or any other crisis, but history – and social media – will tell you otherwise: the natural human response to any trauma or crisis is to immerse oneself in either the creation or consumption of art or music. When bombs are dropping, people write poetry. It’s both a coping mechanism and a means of documenting events, and there is a clear logic to it: for me, writing helps to order things, both events and my own thoughts. The very act of writing gives mental effluvia a sort of solidity.

Spirit Skinned, the press release informs us, is ‘a duo rooted in the musical underground of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem’ and goes on to note that ‘The area is known worldwide as a high tension zone, and the small musical scene that bred Spirit Skinned enjoys a reputation for an uncompromising and often radical sound approach, paired with a rare level of perfectionism. If anything, their music lives up to that notoriety.’

Watching the news, one would be forgiven for being shocked and amazed that there would be any kind of music scene in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, let an underground one. But even during sporadic war, life does go on, and citizens are always desperate to maintain some sensed of normality, and this is clearly true of Ben Ronen (aka diburnagua), former vocalist in various punk and noise projects in the Tel Aviv area and Ofer Tisser, producer/instrumentalist and a central figure in Jerusalem’s underground music scene, who have come together as Spirit Skinned.

The pair’s eponymous debut is pitched as ‘spanning the gaps between grime, industrial, hardcore, musique concrete, politics and expressionism’, and across the course of the album’s seven tracks, Spirit Skinned wanders far and wide stylistically. And you can’t criticise an album for any lack of focus when its focus is set so wide.

Many of Ronan’s crazed, yelping, barking vocals are largely impenetrable, and often partially submerged beneath layers of noise, not least of all highly dominant percussion: heavy industrial clanks and cracks dominant, but then again there are swamps of alternative and buoyant indie lurking in the mix.

‘Dry Season’ introduces the album with a slice of minimal DIY that’s brittle, spiky, and more than just a bit quirky, and lands somewhere between Young Marble Giants and Einstürzende Neubauten. Reverb bounces all over the place, while a slow, lowdown bass squirms away. They conjure seme tense and atmospheric scenes, and the claustrophobic, repetitious throb of ‘Leaving Room’ evokes the impotent rage of early Swans: it’s the sound of frustration vented through shouting into the void against a backdrop of music that bludgeons. ‘The Root’ is built around a monotonous pulsation that passes a significant nod in the direction of Suicide, but then there’s braying free jazz sax all over the top of it, and in combination, they’re pretty punishing. There’s a physicality to the music that’s affecting as they lunge from doomy drone to fractured, splintering harsh noise.

The album’s final track, the eleven-minute ‘Once Was Blind’ is sprawling monstrous hybrid of dark hip-hop, jazz, and psychosis. It’s like a beat poetry night on a bad trip. It’s a suitably weird end to a weird album, and one that’s well worth hearing.

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Lustmord + Nicholas Horvath – The Fall / Dennis Johnson’s November Deconstructed

Sub Rosa – 20th November 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

According to the press release and liner notes, The Fall is a deconstruction of November by Dennis Johnson. My knowledge of the source material is limited to the same, which explain that November was written for solo piano in 1959, and is the first example of minimalist music composition – and that it was also the inspiration for La Monte Young’s The Well-Tuned Piano (1964). This may or may not be useful information, as may or may not be the fact that this collaborative effort strives to ‘reduce Johnson’s original November to its core element and place it in a landscape of complimentary sound. And as such ‘echo’s [sic] November but with further resonance’.

It’s a sixty-six minute work split into four segments numbered I through IV, with classical pianist Nicolas Horvath playing the piano parts, while Lustmord brings the atmospherics. How that translates is that the album’s first piece is a full twenty minutes of instrumental piano work, played slowly and delicately, with an acre between each note as it drops and hangs in the air against a backdrop of a fierce gale that buffets against a microphone. If you’ve ever tied speaking to someone on their mobile phone on a windy day, you’ll be aware of how the gusting air’s buffeting creates a sense of disturbance, an interference. Around the midway point, the disturbance shifts from being breeze-like to a deep, surging groundswell, something dark and resonant, an amorphous sound that rumbles and expands, then fades and returns in waves, ebbing and flowing slowly, and all the while, the sparse piano plays on.

And that is pretty much it: slow, deliberate piano – individual notes, struck a bar apart – and a distant rumbling backdrop that fills the empty space, sometimes barely, leaving little but empty air, others more densely, a wash of sound filling the air with levels of abstraction. At times, like rumbles of thunder, and others, like unsettling fear chords and an ominous vibe, but never anything concrete or tangible.

It isn’t much to go on, and while it is atmospheric and intriguing, it’s not entirely enthralling either, and I suspect the same is likely true of the original, a work that’s more concerned with concept than reception – something that can be done, and so is done, and example of avant-gardism promoting the project for its own ends rather than a something to necessarily be appreciated. There are things to appreciate, as it happens: The fall counterpoints ominous and graceful nicely, while also paying tribute to and raising awareness of a seminal work that’s been largely forgotten, eclipsed by other works by other composers, with Dennis Johnson’s renown falling far short of the likes of John Cage and Philip Glass. And on that basis, and on the basis of the original work’s true significance, this is worth tuning into.

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25th November 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Following what, at least to the outside world, appeared to be a fallow spell between the release of beech and its attendant remixes version, during which time elk became elkyn, Joseph Donnelly returns remarkably swiftly with a new single, ‘if only it was alright now’.

It’s a sentiment that’s so, so relatable right now as we find ourselves eddying along in a relentless tumult of who knows that the fuck. And in the space of just over three minutes, Donnelly captures and articulates all of the uncertainty and wraps it around with a warm, thick blanket of home and opens the window to let the light in.

It begins in what’s swiftly become trademark style, his quiet, introspective vocals almost a mumble, trepidatious, accompanied only by sparse, picked acoustic guitar. And it’s truly beautiful, in that most intimate, soul-searching of ways. But from here, things evolve as layers of textured sound build on one another, and at pace, and in no time, galloping drums are bounding along, pushing the song onwards, and it’s a rush – a clean, uplifting rush, like a warm breeze on a perfect summer’s day, where the clouds are just wisps, high in the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

Comparisons and references that spring up here and there, but to evoke them feels futile, and moreover to diminish the emotional and sonic richness of the work, which exists in its own self-made space, and completely apart from all external forces of influence and time, creating a brief but magical moment you wish could be frozen to last for all eternity.