The second release of 2017 from Jason van Wyk, after the re-issue of 2016’s “Attachment” is “Opacity”. I enjoyed the former, but am very much impressed by the follow-up album again released by the flawless Home Normal label.
Label boss Ian Hawgood has this to say about both the album and artist “Whilst he continues to be known for this work, his most recent output has seen him focus on his beautiful piano playing, intertwined with his subtle sound design and wide open soundscapes. It is an album of such incredible beauty, patience, openness, soul, and subtlety, that we can’t think of a comparative album by anyone, on any label, in years that comes close to the calming serenity of ‘Opacity’. Whilst this might seem like hyperbole to some, I just ask you to sit down, let go, and listen to this pure work of art as it really is very special indeed. Alongside the alluring dusty-starred photography of Gregory Euclide, Jason has created an album that is timeless and bold; a freeing work of piano-focused tenderness, and huge luminous pads.”
That is a big call for a label boss to make and while every listener will have his or her interpretation about the album, in this case Ian was right and this is simply a very beautiful piece of work that is a pleasure to listen to.
“Shimmer” slow unfolding ambience descends upon the listener building up incriminantly with shimmering drones and understated minimal piano which starts to give the melodic tone to the track. The piano is understated as the listener’s attention is focused on the drones and electronics that are bubbling around. Once the drones drop out the bubbling electronica and piano are all that remain and fuses the organic elements with the purely electrical ones. A subtle opening track that doesn’t show its hand too much, but hints at what is to come.
“Blinded” eno-esque drones of a grand scale float with a siren like sound are supported by lower drones giving depth which lead into the plaintive flowing piano, recorded in the same style as the “Attachment” album with soft padding. A rather brief track that conveys much emotion and could easily take on a ‘epic’ life if the piano line was followed further.
“Until Then” another delightful brief track that has a beginning that utilizes silence between the keys which gives the track a feeling of hope with a hint of melancholy. The pace of the track picks up gently with the playing in a flowing style with more of an emphasis on the lower notes that are joined by thoughtful higher notes that provide this melancholy/hope hybrid, but seem not to tip in either favor.
“Recollect” is where van Wyk’s trance background begins to show its influence. A collection of weather – like Synth drones are joined by short prog like Synth stabs with a percussive edge briefly enter the sound scape before being replaced with orchestral drones that bring swells of sound. Minimal piano enters into the track for a short section before the track has another short Sci-fi/prog Synth section. For a piece running a little over four minutes, there are several movements that divide the track up, but don’t give it a split personality.
“Glow” comes across a soundtrack piece. Distant Synth drones awash with ambience slowly unfurl with piano entering the mix with a feeling of reflection to it. It’s almost as if in a scene from a movie a person is looking back on things that have happened in their life. The piano is the center of the track, but the tone is a perfect accompaniment to the drones and vice versa.
“Clouds” solo piano that paints a picture of gentle melancholy that has drones that start attaching themselves to the piano and teach out to take over the track. A grainy, storm – like muted drone provides the environmental feeling of the track as if you are leaving earths atmospheres and heading through the clouds mentioned in the track. There is static buzzing with an icy drone befitting the title.
“Beneath” this start to get almost symphonic with the opening of this track. Grand drones arc across an undercurrent of semi-buried noisier drones which leads into the soundtrack composer realm once more. There is definitely a widescreen approach to van Wyk’s construction of tracks. The levels and depth are shown with introduction of the piano which sits center aurally surrounded by swirling ambient drones which flesh out the sound and light flickers of electronics that are best suited to headphone listening.
“For Now” a brief interlude of a track that manages to include several elements in it’s all too brief seventy-four second length. Glitchy clicks and cuts sounding like detritus of broken down electronics meet string drones and trance like keyboard progressions alongside swathes of ambience, padded piano keys and some sort of crunchy field recordings. The track could easily go in many directions, but is more like a vignette than a full track as it’s almost over as it has just begun.
“Weightless” wall of drones ushering in Synth prog progressions that oscillate in an ambient fashion before fading to almost silence. Siren – like haunting drones cloud the air with melody before the synths return with urgency (slightly reminiscent of the soundtrack of Stranger Things) and with progressions that change in tone and colour, becoming more relaxed before fading and have a feeling of virtuosity that traverses the piece.
“Clearing” there is an under current to the drones which gives you a feeling of an extreme environment with a haunting tone to it. Like a glacial or frozen area where everything is seen through a sepia tone, blurring the vision and almost removing or at least affecting one of the senses. The drones fill up the sound, but have the variation to be more than one-dimensional and have an almost sing-song melodic feel to their sections.
“Hidden” glacial undertones, darker drones, field recordings and emotive strings bear weight to the piece. The glacial sections give an austere feeling under the strings which are striking. There is a definite haze to the track that contours up a storm or something impending. The darker drones have weight and support both the strings and glacial elements like a bookend where parts are nicely sandwiched between.
“Eyes Shut” controlled and solo unfurling the track begins growing with drones before pulsing prog Synth changes the focus of the pace of the track. The Synth flutters about left and right with muted drones, static haze joining it before a drop out section dramatically changes the electronics to a loop based section of electronica joined by ambient drones and prog Synth with static returning and increasing in its presence. This section leads to a more Synth based ambient section returning with an electronica feel with bass elements that drive this section. The pace of the piece alongside the haze is what makes this track laid back and dare say, introspective in nature.
“Opacity” refers to the lacking of transparency or translucency which can be compared to the pieces on the album where there are multiple elements. One of the synonyms of Opacity is haziness which can be occasionally heard in tracks like “Clouds” and the beginning of “For Now” for example. For “Opacity” van Wyk has taken on some of the elements of “Attachment” added some from his previous work and taken it further. The shorter pieces that come across as Soundtrack-esque is a something that would be interesting to see van Wyk detour into as I think he would pull it off with aplomb. A mention should be made of the cello and violin of Brittany Dilkes, Gavin Clayton and Lynn Donson for their important contributions to the album. Recommended.