Solifuge by Less Bells

Release date: September 14, 2018
Label: Kranky

I tried meditation once, but I must admit to being far too cluttered and internally noisy to be able to just calm down and follow with it all.  I keep trying though, and when I listen to stuff such as Solifuge from Julie Carpenter’s mind and Less Bells project it makes me want to try a lot harder, as well as envying her for making it all sound like such an effortless task.

Solifuge’s inspiration is taken from landscapes.  The Californian High Desert’s Joshua Tree location provides the focus for these eight pieces and while many of the titles suggest the sort of sparse yet vibrant locale conducive to the sort of modern orchestrated meditations you may jointly associate with the artist, label and setting, this isn’t always the case (‘Milwaukee Protocol’ being a discontinued method of treating rabies in human patients, which is hopefully a metaphor for something here rather than anything literal).  The titling here does hint at a process of labelling that is more personal than the listener needs to know in much the same way that Boards of Canada have always done; hiding the creators’ meanings and feelings hidden in plain sight and suggesting that the listener finds their own paths and interpretations through the record.

The first thing that jumps out and away from Less Bells’ contemporaries is that it isn’t always particularly gentle.  It starts off sort of how you’d expect it to, with ‘The Gills’ slowly introducing its various elements into the fray; synthesised drones and notes overlaid eventually with slow-building strings and a ghostly, wordless female voice that all fits with something which you’d expect from this ever-expanding genre.  From that base it subtly adds other things to the background such as a faster, circular pace to the foundation which brings a more pastoral feeling than usual.  This is repeated to a more obvious effect later on in ‘Golden Storm’, a folkish expression of thoughtful joy.

Elsewhere, ‘Valentine’ plucks its strings as well as bows them to lend an unusually tense atmosphere before a descending bass riff turns up to make this more of a requiem than your usual mid-Side 1 cosy track.  And just when you think it was done surprising, it ends suddenly – in itself, this is an odd thing for this record as it tends to mount a challenge to Red House Painters’ Rollercoaster album for the title of “record with the greatest outro to song ration”, but it ends with a single, sudden synthesised note that for the life of me sounds like it came direct from the opening note of BoC’s ‘Roygbiv’. (as an aside, and to get the third Boards of Canada comparison out of the way as it’s probably a very lazy thing to do in the first place, the wobbly recorder tones of Geogaddi’s ‘Alpha and Omega’ seem to pop up in a form during the generally and wonderfully curious ‘Bombardment’)

Then there’s the aforementioned ‘Milwaukee Protocol’.  A huge, quarter-hour thought process that begins all calm and Winged Victory for the Sullen, which soon descends into minor chord worries and feedback (!) before easing back out slowly in the same manner in which we were eased in before suddenly stopping as though a switch was flicked.

There’s a heady mix of mindfulness, memory and drama (and bells, thanks for asking – it’s Less Bells, not No Bells) to be found throughout this album, and while there can be a couple of comparisons to pick out like friendly patterns in the stars, the blend is a delightful bending and of whatever regulations seem to be in place for such neoclassicism and the end result is a record which, once absorbed and contemplated, demands to be simply heard and enjoyed.

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