Ens by BEASTRelease date: November 9, 2018
Label: Thrill Jockey
BEAST you say? What’s all this then? Not a mere beast but an all caps BEAST, roaring right up in your face. Of course, names can be deceptive and Ens is not a feral metal monster of a record, far from it. It’s a set of beautiful, carefully structured, instrumental pieces. Not quite ambient, neo classical or electronica, it blends all three into low key patterns of comforting sound.
BEAST is Koen Holtkamp, who was once half of Brooklyn drone duo Mountains. I liked Mountains a lot but it’s been five years since their last record and at least a couple since I gave them much thought. Holtkamp has not spent that time sitting on his hands staring into space, he’s made solo records and a couple of previous releases under the BEAST banner (Vol.1 and Vol.2). While those pieces were written to be performed as part of large scale light and sound installations, Ens is a different undertaking altogether. A studio project, domestic in its concerns and pared back in scale it’s an intimate record, warm and melodic. Made during the months leading up to the birth of his first child and the early hallucinatory period that comes after it has something of that ‘nesting’ feel about it, a gentle but intense focus that causes the rest of the world to recede in preparation.
While the circumstances of its creation have obviously informed Ens we should maybe not make too much of them, it’s entirely possible to immerse yourself in this music and let your mind drift without once considering the joys or responsibilities of parenthood. It might even be a good way to chase them from your frazzled, exhausted mind. Opener ‘Paprika Shorts’ is the least typical track here all busy interlocking patterns of electronic burbles. It settles down somewhat for the lengthy ‘Color Feel’ a swirl of bright, shimmering layers of piano. If you stare directly into it you might wonder if this is at the edge of what might be humanly possible to perform or what kind of trickery Holtkamp has deployed in its generation. Where are the lines between acoustic and virtual instrumentation? It would kind of be missing the point though, which is not to question it but simply let the music carry you along. It’s not presented as any kind of technical feat, it makes no insistent demands of the listener but fills your room with soothing sound and recedes to the edge of your awareness.
While the tracks are constructed using the same methods and hold together perfectly well they are each distinct in personality. ‘Edb’ features delicate melodic percussion like something Four Tet might once have done in a particularly relaxed mood, Staren is bright with possibility above a deep and distant pulse. The penultimate track is called ‘Miniature’ and that is really what these pieces are, small scale and intimate, they are built with careful attention to detail, each one a unique set of elegant patterns of subtly shifting sounds. It’s an extraordinarily graceful and calming record.