Celer – Evaporate and Wonder (2012)

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It’s presently 3:11am. The house is perfectly still and quiet, the only sounds to be heard are the occasional rustle of beds sheets and the tapping of my fingers on the screen writing this review. Of course, if you strained hard enough, you could probably just discern the gentle drone flowing softly from my headphones, but that is precisely the point; this is minimal, sparse music that asks shyly to be played during the witching hour, when the house is most silent, when mental cognisance begins to wane, when eyelids begin to droop. Evaporate and Wonder is that rare and elusive thing; a perfect substitute to silence, one that is better than the sound of nothing at all.

I can hear the softest ebbs and flows within the drone; thin, quavering melodies stretch out in the air like gossamer strands, rising and falling hypnotically yet only changing their volume by the minutest fraction. Have you ever gone outside on a cold winter morning, leaned your head back and exhaled, simply to see your breath appear in front of your eyes? Of course you have, everyone has. I still do it aged 19, and do you know why? Because its fascinating. Change the shape of your mouth and the force of your breath and you can alter the shape and distance and speed of the steam. Sometimes, instead of forcing it all at once, I breath out slowly, admiring the curlicues of steam exiting my mouth. That’s what Celer is doing here, altering the shape and force of his music and admiring its curlicues.

And you know how morning light is delicate and beautiful with its soft, pastel tones? And how there is a bite in the air, a sharpness, a crispness that burns the soft exposed skin of your nose and ears and waters your eyes? And how sounds feel almost muffled and subdued? It feels like Celer has picked one of those moments, where all of those sights and sounds and sensations are temporarily put aside as he tilts his head back and exhales, hearing nothing but the sound of his emptying lungs and seeing nothing more than minute water particles rise in the early daylight. Evaporate and Wonder is the distillation and dilation of a single yet oft-repeated moment, that instant of strange fixation and amusement and intrigue gleaned from an act we perform every moment of every day made observable. Evaporate and Wonder indeed.

I can’t describe to you the musical content of the two tracks of this album, drone and ambient cannot be defined in such a way. All I can offer are some of the feelings this music gives me, even though I know I haven’t even begun to adequately described how this makes me feel.

Sublime.

8.5/10

Saltillo – Monocyte (2012)

This truly is the year of returns; Saltillo’s sophomore LP Monocyte, following a 6 year hiatus.

Monocyte is dark, one of the darkest albums I’ve heard this year so far. Falling loosely under the trip-hop genre it follows not in the electronic vein that many artists within the genre follow (Massive Attack, Unkle etc), but instead a more acoustic direction, coupling electronic beats with incredible violin/strings and piano.

“Abeo” shepherds us in and sets us up perfectly; gentle strings open out into coarse, dark electronics and heavily distorted vocal fragments, beginning our descent into the dark, surreal world of Monocyte.  “Proxy”, with its jittering, insatiable electronics and soulful violin sequences rises up slowly, with a dark spoken word backing. Immediately, we have the illusion of being taken places, to the dark internal workings of some eternally shifting mind. Then out of nowhere huge swells of sound burst out, the power and menace of the strings made known before slipping away as quickly as they came. Spine-tingling to say the least, my favourite track here and one of the best all year.

“Proxy” removes itself swiftly, slipping gracefully into the gentle and surprisingly lyrical “If Wishes Were Catholics”. If you didnt have the feeling of claustrophobia already, it becomes readily apparent here, burying the soft vocals under heavy basslines and silvery strings and importantly the piano, although they occasionally break through in indecipherable surges. It’s consistent and brilliant. Other tracks, like “The Right Of Action”, merely act as filler, bridges between tracks to keep the atmosphere. They are worth it, however, since on the other end we get fantastic tracks like “They Do It All The Same”. Short yet sweet and remaining purely electronic we are given the opportunity to sample the different facets of Saltillo’s style individually. Soothing drone and airy, orchestral vocals rise and swell before electronic breakbeats punch in, really keeping a diverse sound.

“Gatekeepers”, with its heavy, deep bassline, writhing synths and choppy percussion brings us back to the sound we’re beginning to love; plenty of strings and again unusual yet chilling literary samples. I only wish I knew where they were from. Once the melody has run its course we are left with alone with this perfectly spoken sample, which is oddly intimate towards the end, talking openly about death. “I Hate You” also has similarly hard hitting samples, raising societal issues such as self-confidence;

“the average fella, the average girl, doesn’t want to be laughed at”

Saltillo pulls this off flawlessly within the track, using the sample sparingly. It just…works.

Again, “Forced Vision” hits home hard, raising questions of mortality and consciousness, all contained within just a few lines of verse:

“for you are merely a temporary agglomeration of atoms/

“wavelengths of energy if you will”

The melodies at this point, although they do still contribute much of the meat of the tracks, have much less resonance, whereas the samples drive home the points hardest. It’s an almost hypnotic sensation, as though Saltillo knows our fears and is using them to connect and manipulate us on a basic level. “To Kill A King” carries us out; it is an odd flurry of breakbeats and mournful orchestral sequences, with drones and heartwrenching vocals overlain by a determined bassline and synth. It feels much more experimental, less decisive and focused than the album that preceded it. Is this some kind of internal struggle? A battle of powers? A resistance to conformity perhaps.

Monocyte is good. It’s more than good in fact, it’s excellent. Somehow, crammed within its 50 minute frame, Saltillo has managed to create an album that challenges us on so many levels, introduce so many concepts and considerations by barely saying anything at all; carefully chosen and precisely worded samples give us all the information we need. It’s unconventional to say the least but enormously compelling nonetheless.

8.5/10

William Basinski – The Disintegration Loops (2002)

What does it mean to make the perfect piece of music? Heck, what does it even take to make the perfect piece of music? Ask 10 different people and you’ll get 10 different responses; music, like every artform, is intensely subjective, but you have the ability to learn the opinion of one individual right now. If you were to ask me what embodies the perfect piece/album/suite of music I could answer that question in a heartbeat; William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops.

We press play. A beat emerges. It is perhaps 10 seconds long, a tired yet majestic orchestral sound, almost ethereal. It is slightly muffled, as though heard through a pillow or perhaps a damaged record. It is nothing special, merely a few notes, some musical meandering recorded on tape. It bows out as quickly as it came in, only to be played again and again and again. Each time it appears, however, it is a changed melody; we may not notice it from one to the next, but we have up to 90 minutes of this same, repeated melody ahead of us. This minute difference becomes part of a bigger picture, one of decay and destruction. This 10 second fragment of music is dying, and Basinski has laid it out to show us how it happens.

With each track we are exposed to a different melody but the story is the same; each tired, old melody is looped over and again, progressing from an already damaged original to an increasingly fragmented and destroyed version of itself before there is nothing left but a fuzzy silence and, if we’re lucky, the merest echo of the original piece, a deeply embedded sound fossil.

But what does it mean? What’s the point of this music? To many it is nothing more than new-age nonsense, there is nothing to interpret from these simple melodies other than that Basinski got extremely lucky and let time and a tape machine do all the hard work for him. To others, however, many parallels can be drawn, to me this music is representative of the entropic nature of the Universe, the ultimate destruction of all things. We can see what time has done to these melodies, weakening them, destabilising them until they reach a point where they are no longer useable, where there is nothing left. For all intents and purposes we can say the melodies died. Human beings do the same thing, heck, every living organism does the same thing; what was once young and fresh grows old, slowly becoming more fragile with age. There comes a point where there is too much damage and the brain simply stops, shuts down. There is nothing coherent left, nothing left of that individual’s original melody but a fuzzy silence.

This suite has resonance with me; I sat listening to this while my Grandmother lay dying in a hospital bed. It is at times like those when you realise the power and significance this music holds, where wavering mental clarity and emotional distress allow you to see beyond the individual melodies at the entire looped sequence, draw conclusions an otherwise closed mind might ignore and appreciate the power and the ideologies this music holds. Still, despite the overwhelming melancholy surrounding these dying pieces there is hope; Basinski took these old, frail melodies from one medium, the tape, to another, digital. One, a physical medium rooted in reality, the other an untouchable, virtual state. Is there perhaps hope for human beings too? Is there another medium beyond the here and now, the physical? There was certainly a new lease of life for Basinski’s creations, an afterlife if you will, maybe we share the same fate. I’d like to believe that, I’d like to believe that as her tape reached the end she was transferred to digital.

This to me is the finest that music has to offer. No complex melodies, no words, just ideas and interpretations and raw emotions, all of which are drawn up from nothing more than a handful of notes being broken down by time itself. Can we claim this was the original intention of Basinski? No, but he is certainly a genius for recognising its potential and marketing it.

10/10