Richard Moult – Aonaran (2013)

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Wiktionary, that great fount of knowledge, dutifully informs me that the word “aonaran” is Gaelic in origin, and translates to “hermit”, or perhaps “loner” or “recluse” depending upon the context. In many ways there is something of its namesake reflected in the music held within, but what I find to be more applicable is the appreciation for nature and the guardedness of a man over his homestead, his desire to keep it the way it is; natural, untouched, virginal. It’s an intimate release, as we’re about to discover.

Opener “Rionnag Bheag” translates roughly to “little star” and it is possibly the quietest and most heart-wrenching opener of any album so far this year. There is nothing for a whole 30 seconds and even then only the most distant injections of delicate instrumentation float through the mix. At first it sounds like minute piano strokes, but it materialises quickly into the chorded progressions of some stringed instrument, probably a harp. Its notes hang in the rarified air assisted carefully towards the end with some flute flutters before the track bows out. It’s an intriguing, almost playful, introduction, but an underlying darkness is already established. “Heartsease” chases it up with the inclusion of depressing lyrics laden with slow solo piano. The whole thing is drenched in wist and cast with a heavy and old light; just the entire vocal style and lyrical content sounds like the piece came from the 50’s:

“I dreamt you were there

In the black spun twilight

Your face lit by fireflies”

Moult croons in the closing moments, musing on his love long past as he stares out to sea. It’s dripping in cliché but that certainly doesn’t stop it being touching.

In the core of the album lies the biggest contributor to its running time, the 24 minuter “Rionnag Mór”, ironically translating to “little moor”. Moult confesses much of this album was inspired by his travels in the Scottish Highlands, in particular the Hebrides, and it’s easy to see not only his fascination with them but also his desire for preservation within these tracks. They may only, in some cases, be little moors or stretches of peat and heather rich crags, but they are beautiful, windswept and timeless places that seem old and wisened and ready to keep going forever. Moult juxtaposes arpeggiated piano against harp scales to reflect the scope and scale of this sparse and rolling landscape, its hills stretching out in the distance untouched. Detailing the scope of the piece is challenging; I will say that there is definitely a sense of an impending storm, a rising tide of instrumentation that slowly and almost imperceptibly gains traction and volume before the activity of Summer has passed and the muted tones of Autumn and Winter begin to take their grip once more in a bellow of drone surf right at the end.

“Gone To Ground” brings back the vocal style from “Heartsease” once more; again it’s another deeply touching piece that speaks of Moult embracing the beauty of the countryside and the desire of permanence as he admires the rolls of the hills and the meanders in the rivers. It’s like he’s channeling the thoughts and memories from the broken stone walls of the old townships that litter the Scottish countryside, those sad, old and hard existences that people eked out there all those years ago. Mysteriously titled “Mesonycticon” finally enters to close the album for us; it’s something of a safe bet sadly as it continues to play on the same melancholic piano themes that have dominated much of the album thus far but it’s something that has also worked out quite well and at the very least manages to keep the thoughtful atmosphere alive.

It’s human nature to shun those people who turn their backs on society, to poke fun at those who choose to live a quiet and solitary life. In a world where we’re more interconnected than ever before there seems almost no reason not to keep in touch, not to be endlessly talking to other people. But Richard keeps his head below the clouds, reminds himself that there is more to life than the company of others, more beauty to be found in the rolling hills and timeless heather moors and beaten creags of the Highlands than in the writhing concrete labyrinths of the cities. Aonaran craves the simplistic lives of those forgotten settlers and applauds those who still choose those hard and lonely lives today.

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