Cylene by François J. Bonnet & Stephen O’MalleyRelease date: September 13, 2019
Label: Editions Mego
Sunn O))) guitarist, Stephen O’Malley, certainly seems to be operating with the sun drenching his face at the moment. From the positively uplifting chimes on Life Metal to the early reports that Pyroclasts expands further upon such cheerily ruminating soundscapes, Cylene, initially at least, appears to also follow this sparkling thread, this glowing vein.
The first half of this collaboration with François J. Bonnet is a softly engaging world of flowing gold. It’s as if, in one moment, we are viewing a spindle of cobwebbing form amongst glistening dew and then, in the next, floating breathlessly through the vacuum of space. Where you might expect throats to be clutched and clawed at in fear of a slipping mortal coil, there is, oddly, only contentment. Contentment, particularly on the central track ‘Pāhoehoe’, to join and merge with some revelatory Star Child. It begins with a swooning chord. Something which seems to rework Squarepusher’s ‘Tommib’ through the lens of Fennesz’s seminal Endless Summer. It emerges, retreats, and pushes its way to the fore. This is halcyon territory. An exploration of the light fantastic. It swishes from note to note. Neither haphazardly nor lackadaisically. It impresses a sense of solvent respect. Like witnessing the solemn performance of an ancient rite that somehow pierces through your shield of disbelief and touches you deeply. It is careful, considered, patient, and provoking.
There is an overarching theme throughout Cylene. The title itself is taken from the old english for ‘kiln’ and this record seems occupied with the oldest kilns on our planet – volcanoes. One overt reading of this album is the ebb and flow of a volcano from dormancy into eruption and back again. Forever edging on the cusp of carnage, threatening to spill over with bursts of sonic magma. Album opener ‘Première noire’ (which translates into English as ‘First Black’) arrives with notes stretching out into the ether like fingers feeling or tendrils flailing or the eight arms of an octopus exploring an unknown darkened landscape. Wary. Cautious but curious. It’s a gently soothing space. One that is imbued with an atmosphere of uncertainty whilst still providing room for optimism. The sounds are vast enough to disconcert, to shrink the listener. It’s as if we are sharing in this rudderless voyage of discovery with Bonnet & O’Malley.
Then comes ’Erosion always wins’ with its drones like thawed ice. They are the slow-motion slide of glacial shelving. Unhurried and purposeful. Each note heaving with portent. A shift, almost imperceptible but still, definitely, there. The guitars gain an edge. They fizz above the boom filling out the hollow. This has expanded to encompass that earlier, daunting space. Like fire, it engulfs the surrounding area. Whilst you might not associate this broad and ambient guitar work with having discernible ‘licks’, the sounds wrought from roaring amps scorches the sonic ceiling in much the same way as forked tongues of flames. It may burn brightest in the centre but it’s the tiny space above the visible amber peaks where the heat does its worst.
From the crescendo of the aforementioned ‘Pāhoehoe’ onwards, we delve into a murkier world. A gaseous planet with depressing smog. Perhaps that date with the Star Child was a mistake? It certainly seems to insinuate this. ‘Deuxième noire’ (‘Second Black’ – you can see where they’re going with this) practically gallops out of the starting blocks compared to slow preceding disquiet. The comparative flurry of notes draws us in to a darker territory. It’s not so much bathing in a pool of seething gloom as despondently carrying the world’s weight upon sagging shoulders. Carefully maintained drones sear the scape. They move and flex, competing and complimenting. Beneath the bulging doom, sounds scrape and scurry like panicked mice scrabbling against a closed trapdoor. The drones dip and surge, eventually giving out.
But as with horror films, so with volcanoes. It might appear to have all petered out and returned to a healthy calm but, underneath, something dormant stirs. The closer – ‘Des pas dans les cendres’ (‘Footsteps In Ashes’) – recalls the 2008 French film Martyrs in which a sadistic clandestine cult endeavour to take their victims as close to death as possible with the vague notion that God might become visible to them. Opting against flaying, O’Malley and Bonnet instead plump for a wiry sound to permeate the beginning of the end. Like a cold breeze denting wobbly sheet metal. A rhythmic swell forms below the surface in a manner reminiscent of an urgent heartbeat desperately trying to be calmed. This is the loneliness of deep sea diving inside a capsule for one. The earlier hope has all but vanished. Vital signs drop to a hair’s breadth above flatlining. As the music nears its audial demise a faint revelry can be heard. Hope heralded from afar. The glint of solace. Its arrival is studied, almost muted. It’s like watching daylight gradually rear its aged head. Animals and their ancestors who predate recorded time seem to sense it first. A lightening of the air. A warm chirrup. But what if it takes too long? Can those balancing precariously on the precipice between life and death survive the steady build up? That gold glow never quite raging, never rushing. It threatens to transcend but never quite makes it. God never appears.