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This really rather yellow release on Root Strata finds Sean McCann using the titular Piano & Strings to beautiful effect, sounding at once ambient and conventionally ‘classical’. Would suit A Winged Victory For The Sullen fans very nicely, though these perhaps feel closer to ‘compositions’ than that group’s ‘songs’. Spacious and emotionally intense.


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  • RS97
  • RS97 / LP on Root Strata

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Ten Impressions for Piano & Strings by Sean McCann
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9/10 Robin Staff review, 13 January 2015

While its title suggests a sparser and altogether more organic affair than the hyperreal ambient arrangements of ‘Music For Private Ensemble’, Sean McCann still has drone in his heart: around his new record’s piano and strings, which only achieve conventional melodies in choice moments, he creates a sustained textural fog to drift around. ‘Ten Impressions’ opens with a sonorous ambient soundscape that recalls the steadily breathed synths of Stars of the Lid -- rising and falling like a body in deep sleep -- while the usage of piano and strings feels surreal and dreamlike. The melodies played on piano are guarded and distant, recalling those procured by Tim Hecker on ‘Virgins’, or by Ian William Craig on ‘Thea and the Archive’. As always with McCann’s work, it feels as if we’re intruding on an empty landscape, much like the deserted poolside he’s picked out for the record’s cover: when his instruments flourish, they sound disorientating, as if marking our intrusion.

McCann’s recent output has wrestled with chaos and tranquility, and ‘Ten Impressions’ seems to mark the other flip of the coin to ‘Private Ensemble’; that record’s mix of acoustic and digital orchestration often felt sharp and unrelenting, betraying a similar forcefulness as label-mate Troy Schafer’s torrential violin workouts. With less to work with, this record is able to suppress those more dramatic inclinations, spacing out the rise and fall in drones and allowing for a slow call and response between string swells. There are moments where McCann is able to make you forget you’re listening to his record at all, which sounds like an ambient cliche, but actually suggests a sort of lethargic power -- the ability to make music that just becomes its peaceful surroundings.

With its hissing soundscapes -- such as that which upends the gorgeous interceding strings of “Vacant Passage” -- ‘Ten Impressions’ sounds the closest McCann has gotten to capturing something natural. His work’s surreality marks him as a singular avant-garde composer, one who can create a carbon copy of our universe where nothing quite feels in its right place; on this record, though, there’s a very real sense of humanity. A brief distorted vocal appears on “Choreographer”, captured under the squeal of strings. It’s as if it’s been extracted from the world before we depart from it forever -- it marks ‘Ten Impressions’ as a beautiful and remarkably relatable ambient work.


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