Review of Not A Leaf Remains As It Was [12k1069]

Fluid Radio (UK)

Having toured together as part of a trio with Anna Homler in the mid-nineties, Steve Roden and Steve Peters realised they shared more than just a name in common. Struck by the ways in which their singing voices combined but finding no inspiration in traditional methods of song writing, the duo experimented with ‘Jisei’ – a form of Japanese poetry supposedly written by dying monks – and proceeded to chop up and rearrange phonetic translations to create an altogether new ‘language’ totally devoid of the original form or meaning. It is this selection of syllables sung backwards, sidewards and upside-downwards that created the vocal content on Not A Leaf Remains As It Was, the duo’s fascinating new collaboration on 12k…

The music here is sparse, restrained and haunting. Feather-light pump organ drones, the crackle of ground guitar strings and the rustle of leaves being blown across cold floors all serve to create a celestial, somewhat icy sound world across which the vocals drift like flakes of ash. There are swathes that move eerily by in near silence, with only the echoing void left to contemplate. Now and then the voices move away and can only be heard as disembodied whispers, arriving through the ether in freezing gusts. At other times – such as on ‘Fade Away Within’ – they evoke the spiritual circumstances from which they originated and sound almost hymnal in the way they are phrased, held and allowed to melt away on tongue tips. The similarities with Hopelandish – the lofty glossolalia created by Sigur Rós – is unavoidable in the language used and the way it’s voiced but there is a delicacy here that lifts it all. Whereas Sigur Rós always come across to me as a band married to primordial earth, the music made by Peters and Roden on <i>Not A Leaf Remains As It Was</i> hovers somewhere just above it on plains of gas and liquid. In fact, there is very little surface contact on the album at all – even the piano strokes throughout ‘Two Or Three Fireflies’ are allowed to waver and expire naturally, as though struck and carried by a breeze until too far away to be audible any longer. The hollow ‘tok-tok’ on ‘Fade Away Within’ sounds like a wooden boat knocking against the shore without ever coming to rest.

<i>Not A Leaf Remains As It Was</i> is an album of rare beauty and one that deserves to be heard by as many people as possible. 12k have issued it in a limited run of only 1000 so I recommend moving quickly. There’ll be more than enough time to relax and drift away when your copy starts to spin.

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