The ever busy Harry Towell unleashes one of his own works after a big 2019 with his Whitelab Recs label. This time ’round on the Lost Tribe Sound label. As well as being involved with the blog Irregular Crates and a variety of labels such as Tessellate, Audio Gourmet and Warehouse Decay, this UK musician who came from a more electronic/dance related background has filtered the music he has been listening too over the recent years and the result is the deeply personal “Light Through Open Blinds”.
“The album was created as a kind of sonic journal, as Towell strived to document the sounds of his house after he and his wife became home owners in September 2016. These experiments have lead to one of the most catchy, [personal and homespun albums of his career. Upon first hearing, “Light Through Open Blinds” we were astounded by the intricate detail Towell was able to pour into each composition. Towell gave a great deal of thought to every aspect of the album, even the track names draw influence from a particular object, street, room or event from in and around his home and the sounds are all made from house-hold articles, chance happenings, acoustic instruments and vinyl samples. The bulk of the melody was made using instruments as sound sources, with the main two being an old out of tune piano at the local village pub in which he works occasionally and a 30 year old guitar handed down to him by his dad. Though other instrumentation takes center stage from time to time including zither, violin, harmonica, glockenspiel, bugle and bongo drums.”
Over the case of thirteen tracks Towell weaves day to day sounds which add both a sense of intimacy and also familiarity. In some ways you think that there are incidental such is their natural feel (much like the raw piano recordings of recent times). It is only when through deep listening and concentration that you pick up the subtle cues and the way that these incidental sounds form either rhythms or add an element to the tracks. You get a feeling of a very collage driven album as a whole in the way the components are put together. Short snippets of acoustic guitar, general household sounds, subtle ambience, percussive devices and space and time where the notes and sounds can breathe are integral to the album’s success.
The album has a very pastoral organic feel, one which due to those “general household sounds” makes it feel relatable and comfortable. There is a relaxed feel that is noticeable straight away with the opener and title track which echoes back in some ways to the Message To Bears “Departure” album with it’s organic non traditional beats. “Conserving Warmth” is more about flowing tones that gently ripple across in light loop fashion with a touch of static giving the piece a sense of being from the recent past. “Floor” initially sounds like the recorder was turned on capturing a base level ambience of a room before you realize the fractures of elements like clinking glasses, acoustic guitar and what’s sounds like a winding cello line, with it all bathed in ambience.
As we move through the album past the detritus soaked “Eighteen Gallon”, the scratchy, looking around for things “Overseed” and submerged and distant “Wreathed” (we leaves me wanting a coffee) we reach a track that is probably the highlight for me – “Deeds”. A percussive beast the track has a loose and woozy/dreamy feel that utilizes loops to their full potential giving the music a hypnotic feel. It highlights the potential of the home spun charm in music, but is also a tease as I personally would have liked to see it triple it’s two minutes and nine second length. The beats continue with “Colossian” with its small vocal loops adding a verbal touch while beats, acoustic guitar and what a feature sound that adds the melody which I can’t wrap my head around to its origin.
The final stage of the album gently rolls in with the relaxed and spacious “Water Lane” that comprises field recordings with noodling evoking a very laid back and contented feel. While the album feels centered on the artists house, this track feels like a break from proceedings and almost like it is invoking a holiday. “Luna” returns to the house with some of the field recordings coming from a child crying and what sounds like a party or possibly radio sounds. I initially thought this would lead the piece into a certain style or feel, one of celebration, but the rhythm that was established at the opening of the piece is what leads the way which is complimented with an soaring Ambience that points to reflection. “Winnowers” there are multiple definition for the word Winnowers. It could reflect the process of separating the wheat from the chaff, in other words separating out what you need from what you have and don’t need. This could be about the pairing down of goods that most people do when preparing to move and they are confronted by the mass of possessions they own. Musically it could also mean the pairing down of instrumentation as this piece is rather minimal, relying on the less is more ethos with minimal percussion and short snippets of sounds supporting the acoustic guitar. Bringing the collection to a close is “Intercoastal”. Possibly a reference to the move of to the new house from one coast to another (or a significant journey), the track nicely wraps the album up with its use of familiar elements through out. Much like the eleven previous tracks there is a sense of joy in the music, possibly the joy of finally moving and the feelings that are generated around such an occasion. It also highlight for me Towell’s rhythmic capabilities, something you don’t associated so freely within the ambient scene. You can clearly detect his knowledge of taking something so simple as a field recording and manipulating it so that it forms a beat but still holds onto it’s organic feel and resembles it’s origin.
“Light Through Open Blinds” is a concept album of sorts -it’s centered on the family home with most of the titles directly referencing this. It is also a return to natural, organic music making with an attention to the sounds we find surrounding ourselves and turning them from mere sounds to pieces of music. At times it can sound deceptively easy, it’s only on further investigation that you pick up the subtle nuances abandoned inventiveness of the sound sources that furthers your appreciation for what is a rather highly composed work, one which Towell presumably labored over even though it comes of so effortlessly good. For fans wanting to return to a time where music felt raw an earnest, this is the album for you. If you check out the notes on the bandcamp page which I discovered upon proofreading this review, you will find some illumination to the stories behind the pieces. “Light Through Open Blinds”, via the ever reliable Lost Tribe Sound is available on Lp and Digital with a release date of July 26 with a small amount of copies still available on pre-order.