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Yellow6: In time this too will fade; Death

img  Tobias Fischer

Most people think of minimalism as a form of constraint. To Jon Attwood, it has, contrarily, acted as a compass in his quest for perfection. Throughout his career, the Leicestershire-based guitarist has acted upon the maxim that a piece of music is at its best when the addition of even a single note will significantly reduce its impact. Regarding purity as the strongest form of expression, his work doesn't need to make recourse to the typical technique of systematically subtracting and scraping away sonic layers. Drawing from, yet never strictly adhering to the dogmas of, genres like Folk, Ambient, Post-Rock and Neoclassical, his romantically inclined compositions instead jump straight to the emotional core and then set out to gradually deepen it by means of subtle variations and shifts in perspective. The approach is a constant balancing act, which is as rewarding as it is risky –  even after roughly eighty releases and twelve years of experience, not a single session in the studio is assured to yield results. Or, as he once dryly put it himself in an interview: "Sometimes things happen and sometimes they don't."

On his latest solo release In time this too will fade they certainly did. All cuts contained on the album discretely pay homage to his personal education in punk and post-punk by working with the most reduced amount of material imaginable. The most astounding thing here is not so much that Attwood relies on no more than three chords per piece – but that he essentially relies on nothing else. For a majestic eighteen minutes, opener „00:30“, rotates around the same harmonies, as the music transits from a pastoral opening section involving piano, acoustic guitar and bass to a series of intimate settings, in which the focus passes from one instrumental combination to the next and the progression is discretely enriched by plaintive, mandolin-like tremolos. Only towards the end, a piercing wall of fuzzy distortion wells up from the depth until it all but swallows the piece. But rather than rising to the level of a storm, it remains put, then, as if adhering to the theme set out in the title, fades away again, opening up the view to a peaceful coda. This constant transformation of a set of outwardly trivial themes and the arranging of a highly limited set of instruments into finely nuanced timbral groups awards decidedly symphonic dimensions to what would barely have sufficed for a three and a half minute miniature in less capable hands.

Even though the two pieces on the B-side of the album are of a more linear disposition, they, too, create ample suspense. Instead of making recourse to colour and variation, Attwood here works with hidden rhythmical spikes, which, just underneath the listener's radar of consciousness, create subtle frictions. „20.1.10“, for example, builds a loop of three chords, the first of which is sustained for seven bars, the second for nine and the final for two bars of eight beats. As a whole, this construction is perfectly symmetrical, composed of two equal-length parts. Nonetheless, it is an uneasy symmetry, with the second triad always coming a tad too early and the third a bit too late. It is hard to believe that these pieces can actually be sustained on these premises. All but a handful of Attwood's colleagues would surely have been tempted to include at least a tiny melody here or a couple of sound effects there. But repeat listens convincingly prove that they would only be of harm. In time  this too will fade takes its audience to a dark place, at which the world presents itself in hazy outlines and opaque contours and as mirror images of an emotional turmoil raging underneath. Rather than displaying his own inner life, which would allow listeners to sit back and merely observe, he forces them to face their deepest fears and pains - no adornments could make this experience seem more intense.

Clearly, the approach fits in with some of the current developments in the field of guitar drones, where a tendency towards a more „musical“ vocabulary – as opposed to a purely „sound“-oriented one – has coincided with a strict focus on essence. No wonder Attwood should see parallels with Dirk Serries's microphonics-project, which, too, is built around all but imperceptible movements between a rotating set of repeating lines – under the title of the sleep of reason, the two have already started work on a collaboration which is set to present first results sometime in 2011. On the other hand, Yellow6 really is no drone project as such, even though it attains a similarly immersive effect. Perhaps it would be best to regard it as a form of working with time in a way that is rather indicative of Eastern approaches than European ones: Somehow, in all of these tracks, space is already there and the music foremost serves to make it audible.

This idea is obviously immediately palpable on an album like In time this too will fade, in which the silence between two subsequent sounds is never just a vacuum. But it equally applies to Death, Attwood's duo endeavour with Montreal's Eric Quach of thisquietarmy. In various respects, this three-track LP and five-piece CD, first episodes in a diptych, are both the exact opposite and natural companion to the former – and not just because they are again haunted by Attwood's recognisable mandolin-tremolos: What was intimate now seems imposing. What was gloomy takes on outright apocalyptic qualities. The album places its audience in a wide, borderless expanse without any kind of morphological references to human life and it can hardly come as a surprise that the work was created in a state of severe sleep-deprivation and without any kind of concrete agreements about conceptual intentions or musical directions.

One could argue that, in a way, it delineates the same kind of hallucinatory intensity as a Dalí-painting. But while Dalí's worlds were always purely metaphysical and drew the listener into himself rather than into the images in front of him, the vast canvas of opener „Salt“ stretches out as real and tangible as the kind of arid, uninhabited desert depicted on the album cover: Tender melodic lines, fragile to the point of disappearing completely, break like waves against the cliffs of two monolithic tones, pulsating, growing and shrinking in volume like a nervous nebula. Once the system is in place, all there is left for the protagonists to do is nurture it with  unfaltering dedication and following it down to its logical conclusion. „Furnace“, on the other hand, demonstrates the strengths of Quach as a collaborator. Already his Meridians-EP with Scott Cortez showed him equally capable of leading and following and on this occasion, he infuses the Yellow6-aesthetic with a more pronounced focus on tangible development. While Attwood seems intent on remaining in the moment, Quach reinterprets it time and again, adding consoling harmonies, reassuring themes and a narrative to the action. The music never really moves forward,  but neither does it mark time, as though it were balancing on one foot, never entirely tilting to one side or the other.

As the title indicates, Death is not a particularly uplifting journey, but it is never an outright depressive one either. If you look closely, there are mountains rising up at the very end of the deserts depicted on the front- and back-cover. Somehow, making the promised land behind them his goal has been more important to Attwood than actually getting there.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Yellow6
Homepage: thisquietarmy
Homepage: Tonefloat Records
Homepage: Basses Frequences Records

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