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

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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

 

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Duane Pitre & Cory Allen – The Seeker and The Healer (Students of Decay, 2014)

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It’s not often that I sit down, write a review, and then subsequently delete every line of it. Pitre’s work leaves me stymied more often than not; of course The Seeker and The Healer is not wholly Pitre’s doing, Cory Allen has had quite a substantial hand in its construction as well, but enough of his influence can be felt here than I’m left speechless as to how to tackle the musical and emotional content of this release. Pitre’s 2012 release Feel Free  is perhaps one of my favourite records of recent years; a beautiful exercise in restrained and precise Minimalism, its unbroken 50 minute flow is technically astonishing and emotionally subtle, and I’ve never found a way to adequately describe how it makes me feel. This blasted record is seemingly a repeat of that.

It’s actually very reminiscent of Feel Free‘s flow in some ways; opener “The Seeker” is absolutely the bigger and more empowered of the two pieces, evoking more complex atmospheres through unfolding textural development than its sibling. It does open gingerly though; measured and slow piano keystrokes develop the mournful attitude much of this piece seems content to wallow in, quickly seeding the hollow darkness and allowing the bigger lines of the harmonium and a 49 stringed drone harp of Allen’s own design to come to the fore in a big way. It’s rarely a smooth ride, the harmonium seemingly fraying at the fringes of fidelity at times, and the drone harp rising up in a sad and heavy crescendo through the bleakest and most morose sequence of the track, both supplemented by jangly guitar lines clearly of Pitre’s creating. Whilst the drones arrive in deep-rooted pulses, the guitar is more brash and surficial, rattling and echoing its harshness and semi-chaotic arpeggios off the walls of an already damaged and confused piece.

“The Healer” is the logical salve to this rather oppressive and distressing first half then, and the slow droning minimalistic conclusion we also found within Feel Free. Opening on sequences of Pitre’s gorgeous bowed guitar it barely grows from the outset in a textural sense, only allowing its calm and placid friend the harmonium and later the piano into its arms, anything but the calamitous and harsh realities of the former. I find myself just as content to sit in its luxurious and expansive drone vistas as it seems to be; sitting here in the Sun and letting the laughter and gleeful shouts of distant children playing waft through the lightweight drone lines, it’s hard not to smile or feel quietly happy, even if there is no apparent source. It just exudes a carefree warmth that’s easy to get caught up in.

I love the juxtaposition of these two pieces; whilst I’m not entirely happy about “The Seeker” it’s role in the album is obvious and I appreciate the fact that it seems to make “The Healer” an altogether more enriching experience. It’s astonishing to me how evocative the sparse and slow drones of that piece can be, but also how polarising the disjointed and distressed instrumentation of its sibling can be as well. I genuinely can’t do anything other than praise its elegant and touching constructions and hope that others find the same emotional power in this beautiful release that I do.

Kyle Bobby Dunn – And The Infinite Sadness (Students of Decay, 2014)

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Is it possible to be in love with music? Because for the last few months I’ve scarcely wanted to listen to anything other than Kyle Bobby Dunn’s melancholic creations. Filling the gap in a post-active-Stars of the Lid world, Dunn has been releasing heart achingly beautiful Ambient and Drone music for the past 7 years, populating his delicate niche with romantic reflections and earnest fugues that, despite their melancholy, have been addictively engrossing. So finally, after some delay and thanks to the kind souls of Students of Decay, here is the latest glacial beauty from Dunn:, And The Infinite Sadness.

It’s tricky reviewing Kyle’s music without meandering into the esoteric; how can I describe and define this 2 hour, 3xLP opus to a person unfamiliar with the sound? I don’t want to come off as accidentally stereotypical by insinuating that his sonic repertoire is rather limited and predictable, but there is a certain set of parameters to Dunn’s sonic envelope that become extremely clear and familiar with only a few listens that does put people off. Admittedly I’m not adverse to a little purple prose here and there but when an album like this comes along and all it has is its softly changing, delicately evolving themes and motifs there is little one can do but select a few choice emotional highlights from across its span.

Pinning down where you are emotionally across its breadth is, first and foremost, the most challenging part of this release, with each track forging its own sad little niche. Some of the pieces are clearly titled and obvious in their internal reflection and introspection; stunning opener “Ouverture de Peter Hodge Transport” has a bus-window-gazing kind of attitude in its gauzy and fluffy drone sequences, playing itself loud and with a certain energy to hear yourself think over the background noise, punctuated at the end by eerie but gleeful screams and cries of children. Track five, “Rue de Guy-Mathieu” has a similarly contemplative attitude but with a differing presentation; no longer comfy and seated we face a more chaotic clamour to the music, filled with a stuttering, staccato washes of noise and static as we glimpse the snippets of the lives of those passing by, unknown to us as they brush past to disappear into the crowd, each one a potential friend or lover.

Some of these moments of solitude are more internally reflective and rest more upon the stronger themes of this album: relationships, love, women, loneliness. Every one of them charts some unique piece in the disjointed story; stunning pre-release single “Boring Foothills of Footfetishville”  turns slowly on its minimal riff, spinning out its peaks of shimmering love and light in gorgeous waves. “Sorrowful joy” is something I read describing this particular track, and nothing has been more accurate; love til it aches, but appearing to us in retrospect. “Duckfaced Fantasy” is another jokingly titled release but with a deeper, possibly even romantic core as it spins ethereal waves of light, daydreaming drones from a place of wist and unachievable longing, her face appearing in your various social networks and all so far away. The wonderful duo of “Ghostkeeping, Verses I-IV” and “Powers of None” seem to highlight the opposite side of this, the echoes of a relationship past being dredged up and caught, unable to shake free. The first is filled with strained, tenuous and antagonistic drones, distal and hazy but still very real and overwhelming, the second collapsing into a fugue of resignation, continuing the motifs and idiosyncrasies of the former but dialling it all back as the angst passes into melancholy.

The reason this incompleteness we feel throughout the album is never questioned is because it’s apparent that Dunn personally believes himself to be the source of this rejection; “Mon Retard”‘s quiet contemplation at his lack of expedience results in a track simmering in regret, tracking his failure  through repetitive, oscillating drone minimalism that can’t draw itself away from the thought of her and the opportunity missed; if only he’d acted sooner. It’s actually one of the most relatable pieces and  the strongest breakaway track, sounding a good deal like 36 at moments. Evocative waves radiate forth much later on in the oddly but perhaps appropriately titled “The Same (Drunk in Quebec & In Love Club Remix)” with warm washes of smeared, slurred drone duplicating some of the catharsis in early album “An Excrement Suite For Voices Lost Again” but in its own, alcohol propelled way, and “Spem In Alium & Her Unable” also seems want to drop in on this continuing failure in its slow-burning lines, carving fierce and deeprooted tracts of commanding drone in its emboldened and desirous but ultimately unsuccessful duration, but not for lack of trying.

It’s impossible for me to love an album and review it well, especially this release. Kyle’s heart-wrenching constructions hit so close to home and are just so brilliantly well crafted and compelling it’s difficult to avoid getting drawn into his melancholic existence and feel and experience its peaks and troughs with him. It’s a release that does catch itself living in the past frequently, reminiscing wistfully on those easier and less lonely times, continually bringing up those happy, blissful moments (“Those Satisfactions Are Permanent” indeed) and using them as fuel to try and evoke those sensations again, even through failure and hardships. I don’t want to call it lonely music for lonely people because that’s kind of trivialising and possibly even demeaning, but there’s something about how Dunn generates music that is deeply relatable and engrossing, even comforting, for people with similar predicaments that’s difficult to define. All I know is that this record has become the soundtrack to my life these past few days and for whatever reason I never want it to end.

Available June 10th.