Friday, 8 January 2010
SubVersion Stop 58: Richard Skelton - Landings LP (Type Recordings 055 / Sustain - Release 014)
Popular music denotes a quality or aesthetic that has widespread appeal. It doesn't have to introduce much innovation to be warranted - more often than not, tried and tested structures and ideas form the forefront as well as the backbone of the music. The Beatles churned out pop hit after pop hit of sing-a-long joyousness or non-arbitrarily melancholic oeuvre, whereas Madonna continually reinvented herself whilst not changing a lot of her lyrical and ornamental phraseology. Musicians like these are looked up to by the pop contingent and offer plenty of crossover ability. Nonetheless, there is another side of the musical coin that comparatively, exists not to obstruct the rudimentary, but breathe life into loose ends.
Enter the modern classical canon. Classical allocated a capital 'C' clasps at a type of linguistic superiority, and a fanbase that can detest anything watered down to feed the masses. But with the backing of Type Recordings, creators can flip the lid of niche expectancy. What immediately struck me with Type, however, is that they cross the spectrum of psychedelia, ambient, drone and further experimental music. This offers a paradoxically homogenous sub-societal menagerie of styles and counter-arguments that get you to question: what's at my disposal? Contextual plight reinforcing the aims of musicians can be seen lens-like, where architecture arises from a certain clan of supporters, as a means to explain that resultant work embodies a lifestyle and personality all of its own, but also of a wider palette of influences.
Richard Skelton is no stranger to building his ethos with various bricks (aliases) and mortar (labels released on, including Type). He started out with wife Louise Skelton in A Broken Consort, an experimental acoustic band that would serve as an infancy to his subsequent solo work. In 2008 Preservation (later Type on limited edition vinyl) released "Marking Time", a tonic for relieving mental tension, that ruminated away past woes like an unmade bed being folded into neat, caressed shapes. "Landings" affirms from the start that the sheets (instrumentation, approach) could well be swept to freshen, but arrangements surrounding these homely, sometimes forlornly processed pieces remain through the drawn out currents of weeping bowed strings.
"Noon Hill Wood" commences this emotionally rich embellishment; a pulse can be felt from the tension and release relationship, to give the audience its appropriately timed foothold into Skelton's soundworld. The harmonies swell over a light but pronounced bowing mechanic, repetition of phrase supposing question and answer schematics. Consequently sidestepping judgementality to invitingly recoup the theme, the second track, "Scar Tissue", revolves around a descending guitar chord whereby strings play a brief counter-melody to thicken the texture. You get the feeling that at under two minutes the work is much more of a prelude than an exercise in pretence. "Threads Across The River" is exactly the latter but skillfully, and comes off like the closing echo of Godspeed You! Black Emperor's "Blaise Bailey Finnegan III", slowly developing a searching, nasal accentuation with violins undercutting each other in slow-motion, contrapuntal pinball. At 06:30 the mood alters with layered strings adjusting in tempo, absorbing the poise of prior muscularity with a smattering of guitar strums to close.
"Green Withins Brook" is a nice diversion in a third of the album's duration, where bowing and tremolo effects step aside. The picture is clean-cut and flourishing in four minutes, ripe with execution and emotional range. "Of The Last Generation" has us returning to the fields of golden phrase-matching, where rhythm is uneven, pitches slide up and down sharply but with little general oscillation, and timbre has a rough-hewn, gritty surface, full of porous potential. Even though there's no great movement it's hard not to be moved by the captivating melody lines.
"Undertow" sidechains Arvo Part, overlapping chords like a napkin being folded before dinner arrives. This pattern of pre-empted satisfaction was encountered earlier in the LP, although at just under six and a half minutes, it's more fitting of the usual diameter of Skelton's arsenal. "Voice Of The Book" breaks the silence with melodic counterpoints split like atoms - lightly rocking back and forth on the lapsteel, giving this a reassuring feel.
"Rapture" clocks in at 120 seconds, bucking the timespan trend for the third occasion and gently weaving between airy notes, segueing into the highlight construct, "Pariah". This tune re-introduces the guitar in a lowered pitch, with sombre tones, superimposing the entirety as regaining real purpose and enveloped in Skelton's reserved, yet expressive melange. The simplistic composition evokes captivating qualities that signify maturity.
"River Song" builds on the gentle lull and draws out its tension, beauty seeping out of every notation in morose lineages. "Remaindered" starts with a synthetic textural patchwork dissimilar to Zelienople's psych-rock breakdowns and Sigur Ros' noteworthy, transcendent grandeur, but again the bowed string accompaniment makes an appearance early on to subduct qualms over maintained identity.
The closing piece is perhaps a nod to the album "The Shape Leaves" (of the same name) by Skelton's previous involvement with A Broken Consort. But more than that, it's a curtain-puller on the ghosts that exist from listening to this magnificent long-player. A Skelton record sounds like nothing but a Skelton record and that's a reality Richard should be proud of. Widespread popularity may escape him, but that's part of the parcel in a land of cultural overproduction. Unmissable.
Purchase: Mp3 release