Christopher Willits – Opening (Ghostly International, 2014)

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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.

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Yadayn – Vloed (Navalorama, 2014)

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“Flood”, what an appropriate title to epitomise my existence at present. I know I’ve been a bit lax with reviews lately but it’s hard keeping on top of new music and submissions and revising for final exams simultaneously, but I’ve finally reached a critical point where I can’t justifiably put off reviewing music any further, so here we are.

Yadayn fills Vloed almost exclusively with the acoustic guitar, each track a building block and another pulse of sound leading up to the core piece of the record, the title track. The opener “Eb” marks the early and quickly fading regression at the start of the album, just a brief warmup to introduce us to the general atmosphere as it thrums to life on shifting miscellaneous sounds, woodwinds assisting delicately folding drone waves before we topple into the much more empowered and lengthily titled “The Night Is Long That Never Finds The Day”. Despite its rather morose title it’s a surprisingly upbeat track that leans heavily on the gorgeous acoustic guitar work that much of this record relies upon. And much like its title it manages to continue spinning out the same riff endlessly across its 6 minute span, unrelenting in its night-time fugue and starting to get rather tedious towards its end.

“Quilt” has a similar timespan but is a little less exuberant and altogether more interesting across its duration. It’s still largely guitar dominated but the tempo has been taken down several notches and there’s a deeper sense of intimacy and a certain closeness that the previous track failed to create. It builds a head towards its epicentre, breaking some of the melancholy in the first phase before collapsing again in the last couple of minutes, choosing to slow-shout the melodies with a certain forcefulness in the strumming before wrapping things up in a delicate finalé, enough catharsis and frustration venting done for one night. And there’s a certain sense of resignation flowing from the delicious sequences of “Zucht” (“Sigh”) as it picks up right where it left off from the previous piece, the same woes coming back round and yet still being dealt with with a smiling face, a certain forced cheeriness clears through some of the minor keys floating in between. That being said it does have a very lightweight and jovial final phase that’s very enjoyable and upbeat.

The title track arrives and it’s the first sign of differing instrumentation we’ve heard since that brief opener some time before. At 12 minutes there’s no question that this is the centerpiece of the album, doubling the running time of the next longest track and more or less bringing the album to a peak in its penultimate position. Opening on soft drone dunes it migrates effortlessly into downtempo guitar lines, something like the resigned calm before the storm, keeping their heads down. And this rumbles on for some time before it all but disappears at the half-way mark, only to pick up again with a little more power and drive afterwards, but it really isn’t until the last few minutes where we begin to see any degree of real scale or breadth as it rises to a thick crescendo of abrasive, erosive distortion, a cleansing and resetting low-fidelity tsunami at long last. Finally that last piece of cancerous and rotting emotion has been expunged in a beautifully violent blowout and we’re ready for closer “Sluimer”; sleep is definitely a welcome reprieve. We’re at peace at last, and the difference in play style and emotional output is palpable, the melodies deflated and lacking the wrought tones of the past; everything’s sparkly and shiny, flowing gorgeously along to a restful and much needed sleep as it evolves from elated picking to careful and gentle, lulling guitar work, although the end itself is a somewhat anomalous spike of critical, piercing instrumentation that is vaguely annoying.

I’m not sure, maybe I just feel burnt out lately and not particularly creatively inspired but this is another album that I think I could easily fall in love with but simultaneously don’t really see the appeal of. The guitar work is excellent and very beautiful but given that it’s alone for so much of the time it feels quite alienating in its morose introspection, despite it’s chilling clarity and intimate setting. It has its moments, absolutely, but I more often find myself listening to singular tracks alone rather than the album as a whole, simply because it’s just too much of too little all in one place.

You can check out the album at Yadayn’s Bandcamp.

Christopher Bissonnette – Essays In Idleness (Kranky, 2014)

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Christopher Bissonnette’s albums are few and far between; after a 3 year break between his debut and sophomore LPs, Christopher has doubled that hiatus and taken 6 since the gorgeous In Between Words to bring us new content. That being said, I’m glad he’s taken so much time out because the quality of this release is beyond reproach. Angling to deconstruct synth ambience stereotypes, Bissonnette constructed his own audio gear specifically for this release, sounds built from the hardware up, and this refreshingly hands-on and organic approach to music production is apparent in the seemingly spontaneous melodies contained within.

This break from his original sound is notable from the get go with opener “Greenish In Its Light”. That deeply organic nature has still been retained but instead of the manipulation of field recordings and smeared fragments of sound, it blossoms forth warbling and dancing currents of energy, backdropped by a gooey warm drone line bathing the whole piece in sunlight. It takes off slowly as the sun rises and the day becomes firmer, shafts of light slowly making their way through the thick canopy of recharging, photosynthesising plants. But it flits and shifts gears rapidly as “A Deplorable Corruption” comes into view; it manages to hold onto some of those remnant, beauteous notes from the opener but there’s a fraying and noisily destructive edge to them, arriving in gentle but buzzing waves. There’s a definite resignation and crushed acceptance contained within, tiredly allowing those now cliche and typical synth lines to wash over itself with ambivalence, the paucity of its evolution and the sparsity of diversity mirroring some disappointing heterogeneity we’ve become disenchanted with.

“Entanglements” remains content to continue the sleepy, quiet atmospheres this album is slowly building upon, but banishing the growling, frayed inclusions from its predecessor and focusing strongly on piercing and delicate twinklings, spontaneous meanderings bursting out of the dark void that is this piece. It’s extremely minimal and deeply compelling; it sounds random but there’s something to it that also seems to hint at construction that’s so tantalising, like we’re so close to understanding its chaos. But then “Delusions” comes to sweep away that nonsense and ideology with its empowered and overbearing drones, banishing that childlike naivety away with broad brush strokes of lush, oscillating, flanging synth. Its slow rhythms roll over and over, carefully and emphatically repeating themselves with only the merest hint of evolution; the subtle changes in the patterns of speech between each argument but always fundamentally the same. It’s coarser in its later moments but never overwhelmingly so, just abrading enough to make its point clear.

A beautiful doublet is making its way into our hearts though, first with the effortless meanderings of fuzzy “Missing Chapters”. Slow onlaps of reverbed and hazy synth waft in from some distant memory, the whole piece a paralysingly hypnotic exercise in futility as we try to recall an event now absent from our minds. At first there’s an acceptance and dismissal but there are a few minor intrusions of uncomfortable and offkey synth that express temporary frustration at this gap, but they’re swiftly smoothed over and not brought back. Secondly, “Uniformity Is Undesirable” arrives, transforming those hazy migrations of synth drone into clear and sharp edges. We’re held in that dark void once more and allowed to see the full scope of the emergent melodies like we were on “Entanglements” as the wailing, depressive electronica rises out of the blackness, unimpressed and crystal clear in its opinions, not afraid to have its voice heard even if it is alone.

“Another Moving Site” judders into view on cyclical but distal and softened drone, like the revving of some distant generator. It slowly works itself to life, powering up the track and the shimmering and flitting synth fragments begin to intertwine themselves into the fabric of the piece, incrementally becoming more accepted and in the end just another part of the track. The generator continues its throbbing right til the end, but for the first time it changes pitch and then things begin to fade to black in the closing moments as we realise it’s a car or a truck and it slides into the distance, carrying us off with it into closer “Wasting Little”. Actually it’s rather lowkey, possibly the quietest and most refined and introspective piece of the record as it plays out on fragile, violin-esque notes. It’s precious and frail, creeping along with care and precision and making absolutely sure we’re soaking everything in and not wasting a moment, but it is still organically emergent and on the cusp of being non-random, still giving us that lively spontaneity that makes this album so good.

Essays In Idleness appeals to me in ways I find it difficult to define, much like his other releases. I think it’s the fact they always seem to land themselves within Uncanny Valley, forging fundamentally Electronic pieces from rather unconventional origins and freely evolving material, smearing the divide between rigid structure and spontaneously developing texture. I do really like it but I am hesitant because it does feel somewhat…empty, like there’s some emotional hole just taken right out of the core of the album. The individual tracks are pretty and conceptually interesting but feel like lifeless projections; pleasing but stark.