Intimate. The first word to come to my mind when pressing play on this, Walker’s debut album. Having previously released the “Preface” ep on 1631 Recordings, “Mono” a nine track album available on vinyl, CD and digital was recorded during the winter of 2016/2017 following the recording of the initial ep. It was released on November 24 with artwork from Gregory Euclide.
Walker is a Leeds, UK-based professional musician and teacher who in the past has been in bands and a stint trying to be a singer/songwriter. He says “It took me longer than it should have done to realise that I was terrible at writing lyrics, so the change to instrumental music was a long-delayed, yet necessary move”. That wise decision is rewarded with “Mono”.
“The songs on the album were mostly written and recorded throughout the dark, bleak winter months and there is a coldness, yet beckoning quality to the music that I hope people will find intriguing and endearing; music to hunker down and hibernate to.”
“The album starts with “Turn” and continues in the vein of “natural” recording where all the elements of the particular room and the instrument that this is recorded in can be heard. I can hear the hammers, the pedals of the piano alongside ambient sounds. The track is a subtle opener with an equal amount of sounds coming from the environment as well as the piano. The initial start is almost glitchy in the way that Walker’s hands roll over the keys, but a melody starts to form and just shy if two minutes in, the track shows its cards. A mixture of delicate keys mixed with more accented ones bring an almost post rock vibe to it. Melancholy and austere piano playing are not here and maybe its the nature of the musicians past in bands that gives it a fully formed feel. The track itself does not reach any peaks or troughs in regards to intensity and is for the most part uniform in composition.
“Lull” a sing songy start with a distant feel opens this track. Repetitive moments underly higher keys which are at times minimal and isolated and then at times mirroring the underlying playing. I generally try to associate moods or feelings to a particular piece, but for this one it’s not that totally obvious. There is a slight melancholic element to it, but it is not overwhelming. It is just a nice piece.
“Drift” sees the tone sounding less distant than before, but through a prism of haze. There are moments of more strident playing such as the intro which gives it a bit of an Introspective feel to the track. The natural ambience of creaks and parts of the piano are more obvious and the feel of the playing on the track is that it is a bit more free form that tightly composed.
“Hush” while still having the ambient recording style, this particular piece has the focus primarily on the piano. Gently controlled with an air of careful minimalist playing, Walker allows the notes to unfurl and breathe. Occasionally stark, Walker creates a mood that is lugubrious in parts and full of despair. The starkness of the notes are what leads in this direction. If this was a part of a movie soundtrack it would be for a scene(s) of painful reminiscing.
“Froze” the recordings on this album as stated above, where during the winter months in Leeds, which is a not particularly warm area with their winters averaging 5.5°C/41.9°F . This type of weather has influenced this track in name and sound. Stark keys, the rattle of the piano, the pace of playing at the beginning all seem to be influenced by the weather. The second half sees the pace pick up for a small section before returning to slowing down once more.
“Lilt” a romantic track that could be easily expanded to a full band piece. Understated at the beginning with melodic keys gently played that slowly increase in their intensity filling up the sound before taking up a more prominent part of the track. The use of the quiet/loud dynamic is effective without over powering it. The return to the early understated beginning allows the track to become full circle.
“Breathe” continues in the vein of “natural” recording where all the elements of the particular room and the instrument that this is recorded in can be heard. I can hear the hammers, the pedals of the piano alongside ambient sounds and, for a brief moment some interruption of a mobile phone. The track itself is for the most part an exercise in slowly paced, deliberate playing with restraint vein showed not to rush it and let it build organically. A rhythmic section keeps the regular pace while a melodic section provides the flourishes of the track and is the focal point as it weaves melodies while changing in pace. There is a crystalline sound to this section which helps with the rolls that inhabit in the second half of the track where it cascades up and down, building in intensity and purpose before it comes full circle and returns to the original motif.
“Letters” uses bass notes to set the tone alongside the creaks and crackles. Running melodic lines have dare I say, a pop feel and you can imagine it being pared alongside an acoustic guitar for some of the sections. I would suggest that this is due to his involvement on the likes of Portmanteau, The Bruno Merz band, Hunting Bears and a variety of party bands.
“Coda” the briefest of the tracks on the album at a little over two minutes in length sees a track that is equal parts room/piano ambience with a glassy feel to the piano, almost if parts were played on a synthesizer. A “Coda” is typically defined as “a concluding musical section that is formally distinct from the main structure”. This track actually feels like an final track should. There is a feeling of something coming to an end. The playing is reminiscent of the tracks pre-ceding but with a bit of light that shines through possibly leading to the future.
The solo piano playing genre is quite a filled one with many artists fighting to be heard. So many musicians are mining similar territory, it is important to then find some sort of edge or niche. For an artist like Lorenzo Masotto it is the addition of electronics. For Simeon Walker it could be his history in bands or as a collaborator. If he follows down this path, hinted in the composition style on some of the tracks on this album, it could be an intersting diversion for him and help him carve out his patch in this scene.