Posts Tagged ‘Shield Patterns’

Consouling Sounds – 28th April 2017

The follow-up to 2013’s You Stood Up for Victory, We Stood Up for Less sees the instrumental collective formed in 2011 expand in both number and vision. For his outing, founder and leader Richard Knox (The Rustle of the Stars, Shield Patterns, Glissando) is joined by a veritable host of collaborators: Aidan Baker (Nadja), Claire Brentnall (Shield Patterns), Angela Chan (Tomorrow We Sail. Lanterns on the Lake), Aaron Martin (F rom the Mouth of the Sun), David McLean (Gnod, Tombed Vision Records), Frédéric D. Oberland (The Rustle of the Stars, Oiseaux Tempête, FareWell Poetry, FOUDRE!), Owen Pegg (Hundred Year Old Man), Colin H. Van Eeckhout (Amenra, CHVE). And this is very much a collaborative work, which has resulted in an album which is rich in texture and tone, and marks a stylistic evolution from its predecessor. The album’s four extended, exploratory tracks are as expansive in sonic terms as they are in duration. While the drones and field recordings which characterise much of the output associated with Knox, The Gatherer incorporates myriad elements besides.

The first, ‘Colossus Survives’, gradually unfurls from a delicate, semi-nebulous sonic cloud drift into a wavering, teetering free jazz excursion, a saxophone being given a full tonal workout while in the distance, thick, deliberate beats crunch and rumble before everything drifts away to leave a ponderous piano.

‘Anodyne Nights for Somnabulent Strangers’ brings an altogether more ominous atmosphere, elongated drones scrape sonorously through a murky fog. But this, like the other pieces on The Gatherer, is a composition built on a continual shift. There are lighter notes, but they’re tinged with uncertainty and a sense of unease: indefinable, yet subliminally present. Slow and crawling as it is, the sound isn’t static for an instant, and the vicious argument which features around the twelve-minute mark is unsettling: the music is barely there, and not all of the words audible, and one feels as though one shouldn’t be overhearing it. But at the same time, you sit, ear cocked, to try to decipher what the shouting is about. It ends abruptly, and dolorous chimes ring out.

‘Jason Molina’s Blues’ approximates a deconstructed jazz over a slow, flickering rumble, and paves the way for the heavy, warping drone of ‘The Recapitulation’. Developing from a low, slow rumble and ominous echoes, saxophones and drones collide and intertwine to conjure a mystical sonic spot which exists between light and dark. A crashing beat echoes into infinity while Colin H. van Eeckhout delivers haunting, humming vocals: the words are barely audible but the effect borders on the spiritual as this voice hangs in a cavernous cave of reverb while strings drape themselves mournfully over the heavy air.

The Gatherer is by no means an easy or accessible album. But in its questing for new terrain, and its subtle sonic diversity, it’s an album which warrants time to embed.

 

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The premise of this collaboration between Aidan Baker and Claire Brentnall of Manchester-based purveyors of ethereal dark pop, Shield Patterns, is neatly summed up in the press release. It’s not an indication of lethargy to quote directly and at length but a recognition of the fact that a label or PR has the best handle on what it’s doing, and is every bit as capable of articulation as a journo. So much so, that there are those who also have a handle on the possessive apostrophe, for which respect is due. So, ‘Delirious Things is an exploration of Aidan Baker’s interest in 80s-influenced cold-wave, shoegaze, and synth-pop from such recording artists as Factory Records’ Durutti Column, Joy Division, and Section 25 and 4AD’s Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil’.

‘Combining song-oriented tracks with abstract interludes, the primary instrument on Delirious Things is a 1980s Casio synthesizer, rather than Baker’s usual guitar, though the synth is processed through his usual guitar effect pedals, creating heavy, layered washes of droning synth sounds overlaying electronic rhythms and pulsing bass lines. Baker is joined by guest vocalist Claire Brentnall, whose voice is reminiscent of Liz Fraser and Kate Bush but still distinctly her own.’

It’s a curiously hushed, tempered work and it’s the overall sense of quietness which is its most striking feature. We live in a loud world. As I noted when reviewing Jeffrey Roden’s Threads of a Prayer – Volume 1, I find it increasingly difficult to find the time and space to listen to quieter, more contemplative music: the ‘noise’ of the fast-paced society in which we now live is no longer a metaphor, and it’s evermore difficult to find a moment’s peace, metaphorically or literally. I’m not in a position to offer empirical evidence to substantiate the correlation between the pace and volume of life with the increasing prevalence of mental health issues because I’m a) a lazy journalist b) too busy to invest time on such detours while researching album c) struggling with my own anxieties (aren’t we all in our various ways, whether we admit it or not?). All that said, it’s perhaps also worth noting that despite the bewildering quantity of releases I receive to review, either physically or digitally, the number of works which dare to explore such low volume registers are few and far between. This means that while often being barely audible in some settings, such releases stand out alone by virtue of their difference. But, significantly, Delirious Things also stands out on merit.

Delirious Things is an album which is rich in atmosphere, but there’s something about it which feels uncomfortable and radiates a subtle but inescapable sense of discomfort. It takes a while to ascertain precisely what it is that’s awkward and vaguely discombobulating about it. Superficially, the songs are spacious, atmospheric dreamworks, th tructures loosely defined, the sounds partially abstract, the emotions they convey as fleeting and ephemeral as the recollection of the sensations and images of a dream on waking.

There’s an icy fragility about the songs, and Brentnall’s breathy vocals – as much reminiscent of Cranes’ Alison Shaw and Toni Halliday of Curve as the common touchstones of PJ Harvey and Kate Bush – are captivating yet, at the same time, also subliminal in their power. Laid down in layer upon harmonising layer, her voice is everywhere, and drifts from every corner of the music and even the silence between the sounds. This is nowhere more true than on the album’s vaporous final track, ‘Shivering’, which delicately glides beneath the skin and brushes at the bones and the soft matter beneath. The funereal ‘Dead Languages’ has echoes of late Joy Division or Movement era New Order, and distils its sonic elements to a stark minimalism that’s spine-tinglingly powerful.

 

Aidan & Claire

 

Beneath the surface, ripples of tension radiate and currents of darkness surge, silently but powerfully. Baker utilises stereo panning to optimal effect and subtle details like a fractional lag between beats across the left and right channels are incredibly effective, particularly when listening through headphones (which is strongly advised, because it facilitates optimal appreciation of the detail, while also reducing the bled of noise from the outside world, be it the babble of work colleagues, the hum of the boiler or the whirr of the laptop fan: reducing extraneous interference is essential in order to absorb the meticulous detail of this album). There are fractional delays between some of the beats between the channels. The effect is barely perceptible, but nevertheless a tiny bit disorientating. Of course, once you’ve noticed this, you can’t unnoticed. It’s impossible to tune out. But tuning in and embracing the It’s when one begins to look closer into the album’s detail that its true magic discloses itself.

On the surface, it’s a collection of quiet, calm, opiate-slow songs with a misty, hazy quality. How does this, and the referencing of the Cocteau Twins reconcile with 80s-influenced cold-wave, shoegaze, and synth-pop? Again, it’s in the detail: Delirious Things incorporates stylistic elements of all of the above, but reconfigures them, so, so carefully. The album’s success lies in the way it draws together recognisable genre trappings and familiar stylistic tropes and renders them in a fashion which is similar enough to be still familiar and yet different enough so as to be unfamiliar. What is different about this? you will likely ask yourself. In the mixing – the pitching of the beats way down in the mix, the way in which the sound is scaled down and paired back and stripped out of made for radio / iPod compression and exists with a very different set of production values. This gives Delirious Things a feeling of freshness, and ultimately renders it a triumph of artistic vision over commercial conformity.

 

PL055-LPjacket

Christopher Nosnibor

For a Sunday night it York, it’s not a bad turnout, and while I’m not often a fan of seated shows, this bill of laid-back electronic-based music lends itself perfectly to adopting a less upright position for optimal enjoyment. Plus, it makes a welcome change to be able to put my beer on a table in front of me, rather than have to clutch it and thus warm it with increasingly condensation-dampened hands, or to concern myself with wearing a jacket with adequately capacious pockets that facilitate free hands for taking notes, taking photographs.

Two of tonight’s acts I saw only a few weeks ago, and when Mayshe Mayshe opened up for Living Body (for whom Shield Patterns were the main support) at the Brudenell in Leeds, I was charmed by her lo-fi minimalist pop tunes. Tonight’s set confirms that the bells, whistles, mini-pianos and hair-dryers aren’t gimmicky features of a novelty act, but genuinely useful features of a sound that’s spurred by innovation. Her songs are beautifully crafted examples of quirky bedroom elecro-pop. But for all the sparseness, there are some dense bass tones.

Mayshe Mayshe

Mayshe Mayshe

Having been less than enthused by the performance of hipster laptop DJ Game Program supporting Silver Apples recently, I’m even less enthused by Jakoby’s noodlings. In fairness, he has a lot of ideas. Some of them are good, and some are very good. But many of them are not, and his compositions have a tendency to throw everything at every track, often simultaneously. There were at least a dozen points that would have made a tidy ending to the set, but he kept bringing it back up and what’s likely intended as a brain-bending sonic overload ends up being an overlong exercise in onanism.

Jakoby

Jakoby

What a contrast, then, Elsa Hewitt. Same format in principle: a solo performer with a laptop and a mix desk, she’s understated as a performer, but it very soon becomes clear she has an immense talent and is doing something genuinely different. In this line of work, even the inventive and the radical can pale against the sheer volume of acts trying to carve a niche by virtue of their supposed uniqueness. But with some thunderous trip-hop beats – which are in places contrasted with minimalist, flickering glitch beats – and washes of amorphous sound over low, throbbing, scrotum-vibrating bass, topped with ethereal vocals and looped self-harmonies, Else forges a sound unlike anyone else. Building some slow-burning, hypnotic grooves, the gap in the market for Urban Ambient is hers for the taking.

Elsa Hewitt

Elsa Hewitt

It’s Claire Brentnall’s birthday, and having launched the second Shield Patterns album with a hometown launch show in Manchester the night before, she celebrates with a superlative performance tonight. The duo’s layered, detailed music is well-suited to the intimate atmosphere of the darkened Crescent, and the PA does it justice. The tonal separation and sonic depth is magnificent, the vocals crisp yet still shrouded in reverb: effectively recreating the sound of their considered studio recordings, it’s easy to get lost in the space between the layers of sound. Brentnall’s haunting vocals are enveloped in extraneous noise and a gauze-like blend of synths and field sounds, while Richard Knox hammers out thunderous, rolling drum sounds on an impressive drum pad setup. With the minimal lighting, it all makes for a compelling show, and a magnificent way to end a weekend.

Shield Patterns

Shield Patterns

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