The Ambient bromance is alive and well with the release of the debut Slow Reels album “Farewell Islands” on Morr Music. The duo of Ian Hawgood and James Murray are no strangers to each other. They have shared stages together and have had releases on each others respective labels – Hawgood’s “Impermanence” on Murray’s Slowcraft and Murray’s “Killing Ghosts” and “Falling Backwards” (as well as his two Silent Vigils albums with Stijn Hüwels) on Hawgood’s Home Normal imprint. “Farewell Islands” is their first collaborative release.
“Slow Reels combines Ian Hawgood’s love of reel-to-reel tape machines and vintage synthesizers with James Murray’s melodicism and richly textured digital sound design. Their Morr Music debut, ‘Farewell Islands’, is an arresting, fluorescing album that blends full-frequency dronescaping with a slow-burning ambient minimalism.
Their recording collaboration began remotely while Ian lived in Warsaw, spending long nights with his collection of reel-to-reel machines: “I created a number of loops with an old and sadly dying Akai which was noisy and would stutter quite a bit. I also found myself using older tape on cracked reels and the effects of this really helped develop a newer path for my own work”. James began to weave piano, guitar and synthesizers into the material from his London studio, combining the two artists’ tonalities into something so unexpectedly compelling it took them both by surprise. Ian then transferred these manipulations back onto tape, further refining and defining the sound during deep dive experimental analogue mastering sessions.
The role of old technology in Slow Reels’ work lends a sense of decay and transience sure to resonate with admirers of William Basinski, Rafael Anton Irisarri and Benoît Pioulard, but the underlying melodies set a clear counterpoint: a longing for the vivid is deeply grounded within this music. The four cinematic, long-form movements of ‘Farewell Islands’ possess a delicate romanticism and emotional urgency that engages and gradually overwhelms the listener.”
The four track, forty minute album is an excursion into textural drone that encompasses swathes of noise, gritty granular sound, subtle loops and multiple layers of sound that every so subtly change and expose something new. The common feature that can occur with the albums that exist with more purer drone frameworks is a repetition of familiar tropes. Thankfully this is not the case. There are some commonalities like an submerged, somewhat distant sound which are probably due the dying equipment used in the construction and then the analogue mastering. The pieces are the types of music that intrigues a listener as you pay close attention with drone music more than some other forms. It’s the kind of music that almost says to the listener “come back again and you will find something you didn’t notice before”. The opener “Miya” sets the scene nicely with its intricate melodic features sandwiched within the squalling drones and the rolling waves of sound. With music based on reel to reel or old tape machines there is a tendency for it to sound like the umpteenth version of “The Disintegration Tapes”, but this is not the case as the use of loops are very minimal and not over emphasised. The word cinematic was used in the press release and it’s there for a reason, but what it is is a feeling, nor sound which is not blatantly obvious.
“Lakka” flips the script with a rhythmical, almost industrial-esque drone piece with a glacial feel. Slowly evolving into monolithic states the piece has a certain melancholic feel of dread about it largely brought on by the looped ambience. While not as dense as the opening track, it highlights the two artist’s way of evolving their frameworks. There are oscillating melodic lines, which like the rest of the music revel in their subtlety and while it is more understated than “Miya”, it is cut from the same cloth.
“Shona” opens with glistening ambience and an early morning hazy, lazy feeling with warped loops and swathes of similarly warped guitars. Arising from this bucolic beginning, the piece moves through a variety of territories with classic submerged melodies morphing into haunting sounds before it is almost all engulfed in a wall of sound which feels like it is the sonic representation of a bunch of thoughts or emotions jostling at once. A piece like this highlights the depths of the duo’s music as there are many elements working together and at odds with each other. This track in particular fits the cinematic bill in an experimental way in the way that once it approaches the second half of the piece, it really excels in it’s emotional and melodic touches.
The album finishes on the note known as the aptly titled “Farewell” a piece that feels that it wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve. There is a return to the squall/submerged/rumble of a piece like “Miya”, but there is a temperament to it that holds an emotional weight. It’s almost as if there is a coming to terms with something which is heard in some of the drone work, but the melancholic feel is exhibited by the weight of the piece and how emotionally heavy it feels. This is the most conscious loop based work on the album, simply because of the feelings that I feel Hawgood and Murray are trying to convey. The way that it finishes is particularly soothing.
One thing you cannot do on this album is take certain snippets of the pieces to get an idea of what the pieces are about and what the album sounds like. This is the kind of album that you need to listen to in it’s entirety as it will reveal so much more than just in isolated locations. The beauty of the album is that it is a cohesive whole, but with each piece having their own identity. It doesn’t deviate from the path and neither does it make a carbon copy of itself. One for the drone heads.
“Farewell Islands” is available on LP and Digital via Morr Music from today, March 13.
You can buy “Farewell Islands” via ANOST.