Review of Shoals [12k1060]

Other Music (US)

I’ve long held out that American sound manipulator Taylor Deupree is one of the finest practitioners in his field. From the early days of his 12k label there was a sense that the music he was creating and curating was running alongside any trend or movement (unlike, say, larger contemporaries Mille Plateaux) rather than being directly a part of it. The music was alien, and the small-scale, glacial beauty that revealed itself over repeated listens drew me to the label early on and still piques my interest to this day.

Shoals is the latest full-length in Taylor’s steady (and some might say slow) stream of solo works and his first since 2007’s Northern. It dials his sound back to the syrupy slow precision that made up the backbone of his earlier work and curbs the poppish leanings of its predecessor; the acoustic guitar is gone and replaced by gamelan instruments and digital hiccups. Given free reign over the York University music center and its enviable collection of Javanese and Balinese instruments, Taylor dubbed source material for Shoals and piped these alien clanks and drones through his well-tried Kyma setup.

As with all of Taylor’s finest work, this is patient and mature in its outlook. If a track needs to take twelve minutes to evolve, then Taylor allows it, and I never have the sense that anything is rushed or too closely edited. Saying that, there is no waffle or surplus that would have needed to be cut — the album is a lean forty-five minutes, a far cry from many of the belt-busting ‘experimental ambient’ albums we’re exposed to these days. Each track is a quiet triumph, drifting in and out of the consciousness, with the occidental rustles and clangs underpinning haunting resonant metallic drones and tones. Reflective and gorgeous, Shoals is a hugely successful exploration into its subject matter and Taylor manages mercifully to sidestep the tedious sickly sweet ambient excesses of many of his peers. While this might be a very obviously beautiful record, it always remains subtle and retains an air of mystery and icy cool crucial to repeat listening, and I can hardly ask for more than that. Essential listening. [JT]

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