The formation of a memory is like a Polaroid developing in reverse; it starts off representing reality, fades and deteriorates with the elapsing of time and eventually dissolves into the ether of the subconscious. A memory’s emotional relevance is detachable from its coherence however, and often becomes mythical in significance. ‘Sustained Layers’, the new album on the consistently impressive BLWBCK label, is uncompromising in its exploration of this territory. Inhabiting a sublime hypnopompic nether world of free-floating reverie and dreamlike apparition, this is a kaleidoscopic and elusive, yet highly visual and incredibly emotive work of improvised drone music.
A collaboration between EUS, Postdrome and Saåad, all of whom live in different countries and time zones, was always going to be affected by distance. What is impressive is how the group have made this distance work to the benefit of their compositions. Each musician plays a considered role in the collective, aided perhaps by the lack of communication available during key moments of compositional decision-making. As such the role of each musician is influenced, but not determined by the role of another. This helps maintain an emotive quality throughout the album by preventing it from becoming overtly analytical. Instead it is the interplay between musical elements that is important; it provokes nostalgic recollections, which are played out in visceral permutations of memory, tinged with both sorrow and joy.
The sound palette is archetypal drone; effect laden guitars and synths supplemented by the occasional vocal, but the quality of the sound coaxed from these sources sets this album apart from its peers. There is a real lightness of touch and sense of life throughout, with the improvisatory nature of the compositions providing unexpected points of departure that augment the narrative of each piece. Giving the mixing responsibilities to someone unfamiliar with the genre was brave, but it has paid off as the clarity and space that has been achieved, weaves further tangibility through each composition, again increasing the effectiveness of the narrative. Melody is veiled behind walls of drones, occasionally, most notably in the unashamedly beautiful ‘Limbo’ and ‘Dawn’, transcending its surrounding layers to reveal the intricacies contained within. It is the auditory equivalent of being on the seabed with shafts of light dappling down from the surface, refracted and distorted by the oceans currents.
The length of each composition is unusually brief for the genre; again this is to the albums real credit as it prevents any of the tracks from becoming to claustrophobic in their intensity. This condensation also helps the emotional response provoked by each track to resonate more successfully as it is not diluted by time.
‘Sustained Layers’ is still very much a drone album, but whilst the compositions are completely abstracted, they are also profoundly emotional, humane and uncoercive, yet able to penetrate the deepest states of melancholia. The album deals in the obscure, the muffled, the shrouded, and the veiled. It is a kaleidoscopic journey into the deep and mysterious paradox of melancholy: for whilst this music makes you experience pain and grief more intensely, it also brings huge solace and comfort through the exorcism of memory.
Review by Ed Hamilton