Album ReviewsReviews

In Search Of Calm


Some promos trig­ger inter­est­ing chains of (re)discovery. Recently, the stead­ily impress­ive Full Spec­trum records sent me Nin-o-Van by Cedar AV. This five-track album occu­pies some­thing of a lo-fi ambi­ent gui­tar ter­rit­ory that I can really go for from time to time. My search for inner calm has dar­ted into dis­par­ate dir­ec­tions recently — mainly black metal and jazz, next to the usual folk and ambi­ent fare — but music like this quite dir­ectly goes into calm and mel­an­cholic tra­ject­or­ies.

Nin-O-Van is easy listen­ing, with some­thing of a fireside (or porch) vibe to it, sug­gest­ing — like the album cover — a view out over some kind of Amer­ican out­back. Prob­ably Wis­con­sin, since that’s where the trio is based. Besides what fol­lows below, the album reminded me of Clint Heidorn’s Atwater album, which explored sim­ilar music–landscape inter­ac­tions.

The album starts nicely poppy with hand­claps, tam­bour­ines, and back­groun­ded vocals in the title track, along­side the melodic gui­tars the dom­in­ate much of the record. The trio soon reveals a pre­dilec­tion for sharp elec­tronic and glitchy ele­ments: the end of the first track ends in a gritty haze, along­side field record­ings. This bal­ance between the organic and elec­tronic is main­tained through­out the album. The instru­mental night­time sounds of “Min­nott” slowly dawn into “Pike”, which puts a frag­men­ted uplift­ing chord pro­gres­sion over a pleas­antly tinkly ambi­ent back­drop. It’s a little bit like a chopped up “Boys of Sum­mer”, if that makes sense. “Pine River” is min­im­al­ist, with a sad vibe, remin­is­cent of Agit­ated Radio Pilot’s moody lo-fi works. “Sun House”, finally hits that more accept­ing, laid-back side of calm, where everything turns out to be alright. A shim­mer­ing, com­fort­ing way to end an album.

Have a listen to the entire thing here:

I enjoyed Nin-o-Van quite a bit, but it also put me in mind of Duncan Sumpn­er’s Songs of Green Pheas­ant and his album Soft Wounds, which I covered here when it came out a few years ago. That’s an album that reg­u­larly finds its way back to me, an under­stated little gem of wist­ful songs and instru­ment­als. I vaguely recalled that Sumpner made a couple of other albums before it, and I decided that now was a good time to hunt one down.

Gyllyng Street
Gyllyng Street

Gyllyng Street (2007) arrived last week, and though I can’t seem to find any last­ing peace right now, I can get at least 40 minutes of it whenever I put this on, which is at least a couple of times on recent work days. The album relies a bit more on elec­tric gui­tars than Soft Wounds, yet it still has that quiet mel­an­cho­lia: Sumpn­er’s warm, lan­guid voice, songs that rely on simple, strong melod­ies, occa­sion­ally pick­ing up a bit of pace with bass and thread­bare drums.

The whole album is incred­ibly strong, but the opener “Boats” stands out as a strong intro­duc­tion to Sumpn­er’s whole sound. The slow pace is ini­tially deceiv­ing, hid­ing an inner power that later comes out through a cut­ting lead gui­tar part.

Com­ing on the heels of the (rel­at­ively) ener­getic “King Fri­day” and strong piano and gui­tar-driven “West Coast Pro­fil­ing” — which in turn are sep­ar­ated by the almost whispered “The Bal­lad Of Cen­tury Paul” — is another one of my faves, “Alex Drift­ing Alone”, again show­cas­ing how subtle Sumpner is at craft­ing a seam­less flow in his albums. Here, like on Soft Wounds, we’re treated to some beau­ti­ful trum­pet accents too.

And at the end, thought, the album has one of my favour­ite sur­prises: an ambi­ent track. I love it when folksy artists wander a bit, and while Agit­ated Radio Pilot’s “The Bar­ren Ground Assembly” is still my favour­ite sur­prise ambi­ent closer, Sumpner comes pretty damn near here with “A Sketch for Maen­porth”. Proper sampled rat­tlings and other stuff, cold delayed gui­tars, and the gradual swell of a pulsat­ing beat. I would­n’t mind a whole lot more of this, but hid­den away at the end of a song-based album isn’t a bad place either.

So yeah, I’m still search­ing for a bit of calm, but at least music keeps pulling me in inter­est­ing dir­ec­tions, where the new can trig­ger the old and lead back to another some­thing new. If you’re in need of some calm as well, you could do worse than to seek out Nin-o-Van on tape or digitalGyllyng Street may still be found as well, but mostly second hand. There’s not many traces of it online.