From time to time releases come out that are collections of pieces from the cutting room floor. Simple time restraints, feel, mood or sense of completion see them miss official releases. Because of this, some of these compilations can come across a bit spotted. This is not the case with the latest release from n5MD alumni Graham Richardson aka Last Days. The Edinburgh based artist has self released “Fragments” a collection that others would be envious of. The Last Days catalog includes five full length releases for n5MD with the most recent, “Seafaring” being released back in April 2017. Richardson also had the one-off side project St Kilda which released “Ep” around the time of his third album “The Safety Of The North”.
“Over the years I’ve accumulated tracks that were intended for albums but didn’t make it for various reasons. Some have been surplus to requirements for a specific album, some disrupted the flow of an album, made it too long, or an alternate version was eventually chosen. Instead of consigning these tracks to a hard drive, I’ve packaged them up and will be releasing some of them on February 22nd 2019. Fragments will be available only from Bandcamp as a limited edition, numbered, hand-assembled CD and digital download.”
The first thing you notice is the cinematic quality to Richardson’s music. Indeed at the bottom of the bandcamp page there is a link to licensing requests. As an album, because of this cinematic feel and the different moods contained within the pieces, you get the impression that you are listening to an imaginary soundtrack. Richardson creates pieces that have such an epic scale that you can’t believe these pieces didn’t make the cut to other releases, that is how strong they are.
The album opens with “Middletown” which sets the scene. String driven with a drone heart, the piece sets up an emotion tone of one that feels like the start of dealing with some sort of an event or trauma. There is mournful tones that peak through the strings. The strings to me feel like raw emotion, like something fresh and still painful. The relative brevity of the piece (just clocking in at under three minutes) feels like a glimpse or a snapshot that leaves the question of what happened, how was it resolved?
“Reverberation” brings piano to the fore with strings in accompaniment. This is the type of track that makes you question can this really be a track that was passed over? I am new to Richardson’s work, but if this is one of those tracks to miss out, then how impressive are the ones that do make the cut? A piece like this would be an easy standout on any album. There is a balance that this track has in spades. At no point does it veer into a particular feel, but it manages to exude a variety of different emotions. By itself it would be a delightful piano piece, but the strings add an extra dimension without taking anything away from the piano.
“Redshift” emotive ambience that soaks the strings, evolves ever so naturally and gradually with additional sounds to bring forth an uplifting piece. Tiny repetitive piano and slightly darker drones that provide counterpoint to the strings. The way that the piece emerges from silence feels like a journey has been undertaken. The way that it reaches an almost peak before fades back to whence it came, adds to the cinematic touch of the album and easily could be set to a final scene of a movie or program.
“Ropes” straddles the orchestral and ambient styles nicely with a delicate mix of swooning moody strings and electronics. It further shows the musical techniques of Richardson and his ability to make works that sound grand and breathtaking with a relative ease in the mix of musical styles. At times feverish and layered, at others paired back, it feels like an electronic musician in the centre surrounded by a small orchestra. The metronomic tones seem to centre the piece and the contrast in styles feels like it references something, but it eludes my grasp.
“Langdale (Day)” presumably a reference to the Highlands in Scotland. The track feels hazy and post production effected with the type of sound that is used in the style of music that evokes memory. A vignette it has the ability to open up a variety of interpretations as it doesn’t lead the listener in any particular direction. What it did do is make me skip several tracks ahead to see what the link was with “Langdale (Night)”. The tracks are quite different, with “Day” feeling more airy and open, but also like a fragment of “Night”. “Night” on the other hand conjures up more emotive imagery with what sounds like a swirling choir of voices (but is not), reverberating piano that feels distant (with a nice raw recording), echoing snatches of sound and a moving and emotional ambient heart.
“Celestial” strips everything back to electronic tones that bounce and ripple with a layer of smudge to them, if that is such a thing. Waves of ambience start to swirl ever so gently creating a bed of sound that can change the direction of the piece quite easily. Church organ like sounds add a bit of austerity to the piece before metallic rustles of what feels to me like prepared piano and the manipulation of their strings swells in. Richardson nicely balances electronic and organic sounds with a thread of experimentalist tieing them together.
“Postscript” the music is stripped back to minimalist piano stabs and swooning strings. There is a fragility to the piece that is accompanied with a heft of emotional qualities brought about by the strings and accompanying ambience. Richardson really goes for the emotional core with this piece that feels as if it’s a celebration of a life. The fragility could reference a sickness, perhaps and the strings which have a slight sombreness to them, a reflection and acknowledgement of a life since passed.
“Travelling Light” a blurry, oscillating piece that in some ways transcends genre classification. Mostly electronic in nature you could easily transferred to a modern classical setting. Plinky plonk piano gives off watery gives which match the weather soaked feel of the piece. This probably stands out for me as cut from a different cloth to others on the album. It still has compositional touches that you get from the other pieces, but definitely heads down a different road to the rest of the album and offers a different type of journey.
“Sequel” for some reason, it could be the tone of the strings, I feel a sense of nostalgia within this piece. Richardson’s piano and its repetitive motif anchors the piece with the repetition possibly reflecting the title. The thing that stands out is that for a piece that just makes it past the two minute mark, how it feels fully composed, not a vignette, not a passing piece that you could slot into a scene in a movie. A fully composed piece that is perfect in length.
“Terminus” guitar with a nice raw ‘in the room’ recording style and strings bring forth a piece that feels like it’s heading in that almost folky side of things that string driven music can lead to. Proggy synths then flip the script in its head and take you in a direction that you would not have expected, totally changing the nature of the piece and how you reflect on it. The rawness of it is given a shot of emotion once the synths and underlying ambience come in and re-shape the piece.
“Midpoint” spindly string drones, minimalist piano and electronic tones feel like they are emerging from a tunnel, growing as they get closer to the light. Music that builds up incrementally with emotion, volume and instrumentation I am a sucker for and Richardson has the knack for making this seem easy, while maximising the feeling from minimal building blocks. Sometimes artists can over do things by putting in too many elements, this is not the case here. Each part is meant to be there.
“Open Water” the epic of the album seem Richardson return to the hazy style heard earlier with “Langdale (Day)” and “Travelling Light”. This time he ramps up the haze to give the music the appear that it is rippling across. Piano and electronics, synths and ambience are warped like a pebble thrown into a pond or a squall blowing a flag around. The music this time has moved from previous minimalism to maximilism with volume also being increased. This gives the feel of fast movement or a stormy feel, a somewhat chaotic and challenging environment. Possibly a reference to a particular place in Scotland where the weather is particularly harsh.
“Cove” brings the collection to a close and initially strips the music back to solo piano. Growing from silence are snatches of metallic strings, a swirling low-key ambience and a drone that builds up and acts as a signpost for the piece to change. As it builds up naturally electronic percussive like touches give a contemporary feel to the ambience and strings, both of which have increased in their intensity, with the strings in particular becoming feverish. Almost as soon as it has risen, the elements are pulled back leaving the percussive electronics and the original piano. The final moment where the sound of the recorded shitting off is a nice way to the end the album. It’s as if it states all is done.
Over the fourteen tracks of this collection Richardson has created a cohesive album that is nicely balanced throughout. We are none the wiser to the age or origins of the individual pieces, but that does not matter as they are all contemporary and sound great placed next to each other. Last Days is now a name for me to check out more in the future.
“Fragments” is available on limited CD and Digital.