Maxwell August Croy & Sean McCann – I (Students of Decay, 2014)

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Coming this April is the new collaboration between the mysterious (to me) Maxwell August Croy and the rather more familiar Sean McCann on the Students of Decay label, the shortly and bluntly titled I.

It’s hard keeping up with promos and general music listening; lately it seems there has been a spate of music submissions to myself and I always feel under a certain amount of pressure when I have a lot of music to consume. Certain albums which I enjoy less get buried and the reviews suffer (see my previous) as a result, which is always unfair, and the pressure to try and be fair and measured whilst also creative always seems to make me write rather bland and undecorated reviews. It’s nice then that Croy and McCann offer up an album that is languid and easygoing, simple in its beauty and pandering to our current mood no matter what that may be.

This personable atmosphere is apparent in the first moments of opener “Parting Lights (Suite)” with the creakings and adjustments of chairs and instruments welcoming us to the studio or perhaps a living room before tumbling into the syncopated miscellany of the acoustic instrumentation that forges the album. Soft cello drones, riffing violins and squeaky koto fragments flit carefully between terse and chipper, with only subtle pitch shifts demarcating these emotional pirouettes. A quieter middle expanse remains quietly worried before it takes flight in the buzzing closing moments, a flurry of concerned sound to peter out dramatically into “Alexandria”. At 9 minutes long it just edges the opener out as the longest track and it’s my favourite by a long way; beautiful arcs of careful, elongate koto carve contrails into the quiet majesty of the backing cello drone sky, an opportunity to seek some introspection and daydream about her without life’s worries for a few brief moments. It catches me everytime; I just need to stop what I’m doing and gaze out the window, let myself soak in its paralysing ambience as it gently evolves from a drone cruise to a tremulous crescendo of koto in its dying moments.

There’s something of an Oriental heritage breaking through in “Momiji”, named after Japanese message dolls, with its staccato instrumentation and toybox like quality. It’s short and brief, by far the shortest track at only 3:37, nothing more than an interlude between the big boy tracks really, but it has a pleasant and laid-back aura as it spirals downwards, slowing down and easing itself out. Followup “The Inlet Arc” wants to continue this increasingly relaxed and minimalistic line as its piano strokes arrive sporadically and distantly, floating through a soft haze of their own reverb. This languid first half breaks to reveal a similar latter half that progresses in an entirely more subconscious fashion, drifting lazily along on soft drone beds through the night, warm and abed and contented, a time where we have ourselves to ourselves and relish it greatly.

“Column Of Mirror”, however, is not happy with us remaining in this happy place as it careers in abruptly on the shifting sands of uncomfortable and abrasive wails of assorted instrumentation and drone. It warbles and oscillates, unwavering in its deeply unsettling attitude and minimal evolution, its notes syncopating but scarcely evolving as doubt and self-loathing return as we awake, the nagging and ever present internal monologue droning on and on without reprieve. But we do get a break as closer “Hollow Pursuits” breaks us away from such thoughts, sparse and measured in its presentation and fragile melodies. There’s a heaviness and weightedness here, almost like the notes are being forced out rather than coming through effortlessly, a conscious effort being made to air out the unwelcome thoughts. This feeling is amplified as, for the first time since the opener, we hear those intimate scrapings and studio sounds for a few moments, as though we’re made aware of reality again.

Whilst there is something of an unforced catharsis present within I, it also does feel like there is a strongly deliberate and conscious effort to bring that which makes us uncomfortable and unhappy to the surface, as though this self-awareness will drive us to be a better person or something. That being said, as I mentioned at the start this album is somewhat open to interpretation and it’s entirely reasonable that I’m just projecting, but either way it’s incredibly nuanced and well thought out, migrating effortlessly from free-flowing, unconscious thought in loose drones to piercing and harrowing introspection in the sharp koto and angular violin. It’s rather accessible at only 36 minutes and I strongly recommend picking this up when it comes out on the 15th.

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