Review of Faint [12k1073]

Fluid Radio (UK)

When <i>Shoals</i> was released back in 2010, Taylor Deupree questioned the direction he might take next; “I’m not sure what this means in terms of what my next album will sound like. Do I dig in and explore this even further or do I twist off onto a tangent?” Before working on this elusive next album, Deupree decided to embark on many different projects as if to test out various ideas before committing to a new solo work, releasing in the process a low-key 7-inch, the long form <i>In A Place Of Such Graceful Shapes</i> in collaboration with Marcus Fischer and touring with fellow 12k artists, most notably in Japan. In some respect the music produced within those two years more or less followed an aesthetic and compositional lineage initiated with Northern or Landing. Whilst there’s a clear danger in reducing an artist’s new work to a new coordinate within an abundant discography, it’s also important to see how it necessarily furthers a creative arc rooted within a larger artistic ecosystem.

In a recent interview, Deupree indicated that he was interested in creating “a guitar and voice record as a solo project”, something he described as “some sort of abstract folk music” – surely a very interesting way to twist off onto a tangent. People expecting such a record will have to wait a bit longer as <i>Faint</i> is nothing like this elusive lo-fi guitar and voice album but follows more or less the organic abstract ambient realm he’s been exploring for a long time now. Saying that, <i>Faint</i> is also an album that manages to twist off on a tangent in very unexpected ways, but more on that later.

Within the last 7 or 8 years, Deupree’s work has been dealing with themes of evanescence and impermanence, often echoing the cycles of nature. In <i>Snow</i> for instance, the physical EP was accompanied with images of Deupree’s own natural environment captured on pre-faded polaroids slowly decaying away because of the imperfect nature of the media itself, and as such acted as a powerful metaphor of the ephemerality of things. <i>Faint</i> quietly departs from those explorations and for the matter displays a much sparser and lighter sound palette than its predecessors. In <i>Shoals</i> for instance (but that can be said of most of Deupree’s ambient projects) the listeners were placed right inside a dense mesh of amorphous loops piled-up in harmonic constructions constantly evaporating away, so they could explore the music like silent witnesses of an habitat in permanent mutation. The verticality of such works seems in <i>Faint</i> to be shifting towards the horizontality of long tones sending tendrils as far as they can stretch, often until they crystallise like held together within a elusive sonic aether. On paper, it doesn’t sound too dissimilar to Brian Eno’s ambient work which, in essence, floats away in space, completely disembodied and seemingly eternal. But the music of <i>Faint</i> doesn’t fill the room like the pure light of <i>Lux</i> captured on film and slowed down to see it bouncing off the walls. Instead it’s bound by an internal tension that anchors it to human experience, a tension revealed negatively by the harmonic ecosystem in which it floats in being.

Compared to the rest of what follows on the album, opener “Negative Snow” seems to function both as a bridge linking back to Deupree’s previous work and a point of departure towards new territories. It strongly recalls, in both sound design and composition, the music of <i>Northern</i> with its melodica motifs joined later by an anchoring bass line cutting through a hazy reverberated backdrop, but is very much reflective, albeit in reverse, of the image drawn two years ago by <i>Snow</i>, an image disappearing away like its corresponding faded polaroid. In “Negative Snow” though, the melodic fragments appear captured within a shallow depth of field which renders the landscape in the background completely blurred out, and as such those miniature figures clearly stick out of the main picture, as if Deupree was signaling a shift in his focus, quietly leaving the vertical immersion within the soundscape to create a plane of immanence where ‘pure’ sound can exist for and by themselves.

In “Dreams of Stairs,” the music becomes less complex, losing its characteristic thickness and richness of sound but strangely enough turning into an even deeper and wider affair, where unhurried tones are held suspended in space, like dispersed sun-light leaking through holes in a log-cabin. Recordings of someone plugging and unplugging audio cables, generating delicate instrument noises in the background, perhaps recalling the solitary studio practice, are enveloped by long floating synth notes, seemingly sourced from frequency modulated sine waves, whose slow tremolo ripples on the surface of silence, the track very much exploring the emergence of a dream within the awaken state.

Throughout the album, the music lies upon a thick bed of tape hiss, covering the overall sound with a translucent veil that clearly positions Faint within a hazy oneiric realm – Deupree himself reckons that this project was inspired by the “tiny fraction of time between waking and sleep, with no distinct perception of reality”. It’s maybe at this point that whilst reflecting on how Deupree’s music is evolving, one can find a clue. If, up to now, he’d been preoccupied with temporality, casting ephemerality and transience upon most of his musical output, he now seems more interested in examining the sheer phenomenon of transition where one exists in between states, a phenomenon devoid of duration where things just exist in flux, dispersed on the horizontal plane of change – a subtle but important evolution. The aptly named “Thaw” is perhaps a perfect illustration of this very question. In their transitions – for instance warmth liquidating frozen water – things become substance-less, like in a state of perpetual becoming, in continuation of their origin whilst always disappearing away. Transitions are silent transformations happening in front of us, but so slowly and overwhelmingly that one can’t grasp the totality of their reach. In essence “Thaw” embodies the very passing of things without us realising the immutable nature of their own disappearance, and as such it’s a powerful metaphor of Taylor Deupree’s oeuvre that have quietly moved from the rigidity of the grid to the ephemerality of the amorphous loop. The music is in flux, each tone ebbing and flowing but never coming back twice to the same point and over the course of the track, the elemental loops breathing life into the music never really congeal or dissolve away in the sonic aether. In the Deluxe Edition, the standard album comes with a 38min companion CD “Thaw (Reprise),” which is essentially a longer and pitched down version of “Thaw,” augmented with crystalline incidentals throughout. It perhaps helps reflecting even more strongly on the ontological theme of transition, whilst re-examining this very phenomenon in slow motion to possibly capture its elusive essence – an essence always receding as one tries to approach it.

Penultimate track “Shutter” features the exquisite guitar work of Cameron Webb who has been a 12k regular for years now and comes here as a much welcome counterpoint to Deupree’s opaque droning clouds hanging over the landscape. Cameron’s playing is slow and liquid, floating between foreground and background as if bridging the gap between the two. Deupree utilizes a restrained number of layers and can thus examine the vivid expanse of the tone more thoroughly. Saying that, his drone work is so understated that it demands intense engagement from the listener to appreciate the sheer delicacy of its edifice, which, when cascading down within the feedback maze of delay pedals, turns the music into the floating hallucination of a dream long forgotten.

Closer “Sundown” is perhaps Deupree’s best work to date and certainly a track that reveals its dark and austere beauty upon repeated listens. The hazy electronic strings hovering over a bed of static whilst long pads melt away on its surface are very much the anchor of the track but evolve in such a way that they seem to float like ink in water, volutes of colours undulating in slow motion. It’s the only time where the timbre of sound and the choice of a somewhat lower register give the music a sort of emotional weight and as such cast an oblique light upon the overall atmosphere. The resulting decayed obscurity brings a sheer sense of darkness and closure onto the whole album – something rarely heard (if ever) in Deupree’s music.

Ultimately, how an artist evolves with time is maybe less the outcome of a conscious process and more the work of silent transformations operating in slow convective movements, well outside the framework of planned decisions. Taylor Deupree’s new album still takes root within the rich soil of his past oeuvre but manages to connect sideways with a dense rhizome of new creative possibilities. It thus demonstrates it’s always possible to dig further whilst twisting off on a tangent and as such <i>Faint</i> oscillates perfectly between forward motion and expansive stillness – the most delicate balance you could imagine.

– Pascal Savy for Fluid Radio

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