Marble Sky – Marble Sky (Students of Decay, 2014)

Print

I’ve thought long and hard about how to talk about this album and every version just didn’t seem quite right; I went to walk the dog a little while ago and thought to myself that perhaps I was approaching this album the wrong way, that instead of talking about human love and emotional fugues I should talk about how it could be interpreted in this moment. The realisation came after looking up at that orange, dismal curtain of light pollution overhead, that which would otherwise be grey in daylight; a part of Autumn’s encroachment and the subtle shift of weather from Summer’s vaguely acceptable heights to Winter’s ultimately grey, dismal fugues, and I think that seasonal evolution is perhaps the best way to approach Jeff Witscher’s new compilation album Marble Sky. 

His two previous albums are fused and appear chronologically, with debut The Sad Return appearing first. This first half for me feels like the more emotionally damaged, the more morose and resigned of the two; the opener of “Pulling Up Grass Under a Blanket” arrives in tidal washes of white noise, pulses of melancholic drone supplementing it with their vague, hazy turnings. Like each of the pieces it grows in textural and emotional complexity across its span, with thick horn blats eventually calling out of the foggy mire, waking us up with urgency as the first Autumnal mist descends. “Dull Hue” puts on a stronger performance, the new day dawning fully and with it a cavalcade of smeared, processed guitar drones cutting through the background fuzz. We’re becoming aware of the liveliness of Autumn in its crashing waves of drone, with bolder and more colourful, piercing notes cutting through the mulch as life picks up the pace to ready itself.

“What You Might Forget” attempts to keep us grounded and not forgetful of the next chapter in the story, trying to get us to remember Winter’s woes through its scouring walls of obfuscating static. It’s a track long struggle that eventually sees the softer drone lines make themselves heard above the clamour with an accepting heaviness, seguing into almost violin reminiscent oscillations at its end, a confused and fluxing emotional journey that can’t decide whether it’s pleased or sad to see the end of this life-year.

The second half sees a portion of Marble Sky’s sophomore release featured: Low God/Lady. “A Shining Juniper” makes for an initially menacing introduction to this side of things as it moves in on dark, growling distortion, but it quickly falls away into perhaps the airiest and most beauteous piece of the record, unwinding a blissful haze of distant, delicate drones. Golden light shines through the trees in warm, joyful flutters of sharper and brighter synth lines later in the piece before it dips low enough to be continuously present, beaming out of the mix. Followup “Sunset on Low” is the shortest piece at a mere 5 minutes long and is something of a bleak, minimalistic and chugging interlude between its bigger brothers, sitting motionless in melancholic hibernation as time slides miserably past in a bleary, dim haze of shifting drone, just waiting for that final day.

The closer “Lea; Crossed Eyes” is where it all comes to a head though, and is unquestionably my favourite track of the album and one of the finest drone pieces I’ve heard in a long while. Early, miserable drones swirl and sit in their fugue, turning uneasily before a bolder line chastises them over their misery and castigates them from the piece in favour of an emergent synth line that bathes the track’s extensive midsection with a contented and quietly satisfied light; thin and shimmery it unwinds ahead of the stunning final four minutes of overwhelming, eviscerating catharsis. It grows to a wall of stereo release, a destructive wave that terminates our lovely green leaves with pleasure now that we’re ready to move on and tackle Winter, leaving our concerns behind now that it’s too late, embracing our fate head on.

The changing of the seasons is an unstoppable force that nature must bear without question; the first half buries its head in the sand and struggles toaccept its impending fate, not ready to shed its leaves or go back to school or university following the luxurious Summer months. But Marble Sky comes to terms with that inevitability in its second half, embracing the challenge and enjoying basking in Autumn’s crispness and soft, golden glow one last time before the fleeting moment passes and the dirge of Winter arrives. I’m floored by the beauty and cohesion of this release and I honestly can’t get enough of it; there’s no question that this is making the end of year list for me.

You can find more details on the impending vinyl reissue, and stream The Sad Return, at Students of Decay

 

Trampique – Face To Face (Dark Clover, 2014)

Are you sure you’re ok? Do you want me to leave or something?

Alexandr Frolov of Volor Flex has had a difficult time of 2013 by the sounds of things; briefly putting aside his well known Volor Flex alias for the time being and producing his debut LP under Trampique (the title an allusion to his hometown), Face to Face is a downtempo, Future Garage chronicle of his year, month by month, and what a bleak affair it is. Evoking some of the same musical sensibilities as others in this vein like Clubroot and Burial, Frolov carves our journey through shuffling hi-hats, irregular rhythms and crooning synth drones. And forgive me but this album does call for a track by track breakdown, it’s just how the story unfolds.

“January” is stoic and quiet, burbling little muffled guitar pickings alongside its bleak expanses of reverb, the slow trudging and crunching through snow heard delicately rising out of the darkness. It’s a lonely and cold opening, and I want to say that things pick up but that’s not entirely true. “February”`s suppressed sub-bass lines are certainly more empowered in its initial sequences, a burst of energy at the start of the month, but it falls away to sparse, downtrodden piano tinklings and moaning winds as we’re left to contemplate alone. “March” welcomes the prospect of and imminent Spring in its shuffling beats and tolling electronica, pushing at a brisker pace in an attempt to breakaway from these Winter fugues.

Unfortunately Spring and Summer appear to be every bit as unrelenting; “April” gives us something of an insight into its darkness with its elongate drones and spoken word lines; “the reason I came back to town was for you”, they admit, “do you ever wonder if thing’s might have been different between us?”. For the first time the music really opens up to us and we get a slight insight into the melancholia being displayed. “May” rises out of the surf on its cruising idiosyncratic beats and shuffling rhythms; it’s grooving and driven but ultimately feels distracting and self-appeasing, that fun night out before the regret seeps in the following morning. And so it does in “June”, our female companion whispering out of the darkness with a faint air of concern. It synths flutter and roll before descending into a judgmental, crackling void of vague regret, of expectations not met.

Our microcosm continues to expand as “July” feels the need to clear its head, taking a night stroll through the still light evenings as it churns out the same idiosyncratic riff that underpins his life, but it’s slower and more tympanic, walking slowly and plodding along with its head bowed. “September” also has a similar feel to it in its later moments, albeit more sluggish and suppressed, buried under a drugged haze. “October”`s 2-step beats reignite some of “May”`s bombast and drive, although this time it’s entirely more headstrong and deliberate, advancing and empowering ourselves through its pulsating, flowing grooves. It’s reinforced in “November” with some more dubby moments supplementing the sparkly and lightweight electronica it’s paired with, fluttering arpeggios alongside the Burial reminiscent vocal fragments.

By the time “December” comes around we’re ready for the year to be over; conjoining some of the quiet minimalism of “April” and “January”, its empty xylophones tinkle like stars appearing in the enveloping night, its drones cool and resigned to their fate. “I have made a mistake”, she says, “you can’t take me”; a sad parting shot that, despite all we did and regardless of how proactive we were in the preceding months, our dreams become delicately crushed once more as she says no.

Frolov certainly shoehorns a great deal of time and emotional content into an album that’s only 30 minutes long, and that’s why I love this release; it’s short, bitesized and potent, not to mention deliciously introspective. It’s truly difficult to fault this record; I love this particular brand of Chillstep and Future Garage and I’ve been looking for something akin to this for quite a while; the fact that it tells such an intimate and varied story across its span is really just the icing on the cake for me. Check it out.

Christopher Willits – Opening (Ghostly International, 2014)

cover

Last year, fellow Ghostly International signee Scott Hansen of Tycho unveiled his latest LP Awake, much to my dissatisfaction. After becoming increasingly more band-oriented over the years and especially welcoming guitarist Dusty Brown into the fold, it felt like Tycho had abandoned much of his original electronic character in favour of bland percussion and over-represented guitar work, allowing his own synth lines to become crushed and inconsequential. Luckily, it seems like Christopher Willits has produced the album that I wished that Awake was in his gorgeously flowing Opening.

Opener “Vision” is the bleariest and perhaps the most replete piece of the record, opening us to the emerging beachscape through thick MIDI chorals (oft repeated through the album), softly chirping local wildlife and thick, blissful drone lines that demarcate the horizon with their soft light. It’s all very plain and unassuming; beautiful but quietly and selflessly introspective, slowly waking to the vista unfolding before us and evoking some sense of satisfaction. “Clear” continues this forward progression, gaining some more traction and allowing the synth riffs a little playful space. The pacing is still luxuriously slow, however, with only the merest hint of propulsion emanating from light percussion as the drones shift and migrate away from their centre of obfuscation.

It’s almost as if Willits feels like he’s letting things get the better of him and the music is perceived as getting away, since “Ground” appears to almost stem the tide of increasingly growing instrumentation by relegating the lightly riffing synth into the far backfield and neatly out of the way, squashing whatever remnants are left behind into a thickly smeared reverbed haze. Some suggestion of evolution and breakout is tantalisingly played out in a few shuffling beats and a rising wave of increasingly urgent drones but it’s caught and the track fades quickly. The suppression continues into “Now” as well, initially enveloped in a thin layer of glitch fuzz to supplement the crushed melodies and recurrent chorals. There’s a certain downtrodden wist detectable here as the piece unravels, metamorphosing into a bigger and more expressive mass of big synth drones and assistant but intermittent percussion; a jovial facade to the underlying melancholia, perhaps?

Or perhaps not, as “Connect” rolls in and takes things to sweet new heights, introducing the acoustic guitar with some clarity for the first time alongside some playful Tycho-esque synth flutters and chaotic but empowering miscellaneous electronica. It proceeds rather tentatively at first but slips into a beautifully intimate and emotionally probing guitar solo of exquisite delicacy that just makes the entire track, a soft profession of desire and relatedness sold through its organic motions, all coy and sensitive, hesitant. The vast and uncertain vista of followup “Wide” ruminates on whether or not that display of affection was such a good idea, spinning out many of the familiar synth riffs and smeared choral samples we’ve heard thus far into endless, repetitive oblivion, mulling over the same things again and again, fruitlessly. It’s a little dry but a nice pulse of instrumentation towards the end makes up for it, a little surge of hope amidst the fugue.

We’re finally taken out of “Wide”‘s misery in closer “Release”, the summation of all our confined emotional consideration through this album and its cathartic abandonment. It’s the satisfied yang to “Vision”‘s yin, a twilight hour closer that rests contented in deep drone minimalism and the recorded snippets of the surf washing against the inside of our mind, the tide of sleep returning after this productive day. Sweet, faint guitar work melts out of the sun-kissed lo-fi haze that sugar-coats the closer, a faint smile on our lips as the album sinks into sleep. It’s a fragile and minimal emotional journey we’re taken on through Opening, but one that absolutely has a clear storyline and a satisfying resolution, migrating effortlessly and imperceptibly through lonely and hopeless fugues before seeing the opportunity and acting upon it, being a little bold and throwing this dissatisfyingly lonely and resigned existence to the wind, saying goodbye to the early emotional insecurities and finally becoming comfortably in its own shoes.