Ever-prolific tape chemist Ian William Craig is readying yet another record of gorgeous crackle pop. Having broken our hearts with the fragmented opera loops of A Turn of Breath in 2014, he's since released the understated but equally beautiful Cradle For The Wanting for Recital, which consisted of nothing but his vocal run through reel to reels. From there he put out the noisy piano excursions of Zugzwang for Fostex with Patient Sounds and now he returns with Centres, his first record for FatCat's classical imprint 130701. He's one of our favourite artists and this record's early single suggests more accessible and narratively linear songwriting -- and even some percussion. Yes come on.
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Bursting with narrative, seeking out clarity in reprises, smoothing over existentialism with feedback, ruining pop songs that feel too standard to be the truth… this is, if you can believe it, Ian William Craig’s most chaotic record yet, one meandering its way away from a proper story while pining for the most typically art of things: an opener, a closer, and a whole middle for them to contain. Having moved from Recital with two records that now feel comparatively slight -- ‘A Turn of Breath’, one of my all-time favourite albums, alongside the mulled vocal loops of ‘Cradle for the Wanting’ -- Craig’s debut record for FatCat’s classical imprint feels like an emotional outpouring, with huge, theatrical tunes told in a myriad sorrowful styles, from pop songs told from within field recordings to operatic solos made in tape loop photo booths. This is a glorious mess.
It begins on “Contain”, a track that does the remarkable: it attempts to perfect Craig’s singular vocal, course-correcting his most clear vocal delivery yet with an auto-tune that feels alien to the crumbling Fostex decks making noise beneath. It’s an epic ten minute rumination that you almost feel could exist separate of an album, but ‘Centres’ feels like that in its entirety: it’s named so, I feel, because each of these songs feels like a world unto itself, sequenced next to another only in the way a planet has a neighbour. “I’ll not contain you” is the watchword of this tune, a sentiment shared by the Microphones’ Phil Elverum on his opus ‘The Glow’ -- another record of huge moments compacted and contextualised into miniatures.
The weatherworn “A Single Hope” is one of the only moments on this record where you can hear Craig uniting the plurality of his sound: he does what he does best, swirling his voice through loops that sound more like wisps of air than rigid cycles, before riding the current of Basinski-pillowed noise into a clear, lyrical song: he intones at a slow pace, dictating through streams of organ chords and a bass drum beat. Honestly, it’s beautiful: it almost feels like proof that Craig’s music can exist both as a wandering, self-perpetuating thing and something that’s been moulded, as emotion that’s been shaped.
Best of all, though, is this record’s Easter Egg feel, its secret corners and new approaches. These songs are surprises. On “The Nearness”, Craig’s voice clamours through the octaves as an accordion stretches out, the melodies of his voice holding tight to the sustains of his instrument before cooing noise glitches eclipse the scene, as if he’s worried he's spent too much time on a proper conversation. “Arrive, Arrive” holds as my new favourite IWC piece, his voice burrowing into a lo-fi hideout over whirring keys, his lyrics clearer than ever, conjoined on minor harmonies for a song: beginning, middle and end. “A Circle Without Having to Curve” is dark ambient in an endless corridor a la Grouper on ‘Dream Loss’, but it comes out into the open on a field recording of cars streaming past in the rain (one of the best sounds ever, by the way). It’s as if Craig has recognised his scenic but malfunctioning music in the chaotic patterns of the everyday.
There’s a lot more I can’t write about right now because I’m way over Norman review character limit, but that’s fitting for ‘Centres’ -- on a record as cryptic as this, it’s right that I would be burbling. I’ll just say that the closer for this record, a retread of the autotuned “Contain”, might be just as alien to listeners as the original: it’s Craig alone with an acoustic guitar, and literally nothing else. He’s so free of the decks that you can hear the chords slide through the frets. This record is in its jumbled state because of new attempts and musical breakouts, but it’s this very same newness that makes the record feel, at its end, like a closed book: his looping songs may speak to renewal, and to cycles, and to a kind of constancy, but here with his guitar, it's the first time he's said a last word.
10/10 BaronVonRuthless Customer review, 15th July 2016
I was too slow off the mark to get a taste of A Turn of Breath so my IWC journey started with Cradle for the Wanting, a shifting sandstorm of hiss and crackle that felt aimless in the best possible way.
Centres builds on it's predecessor by adding legible vocals, an incredible sense of direction, of intent, and richer choral depth to Craig's voice. The whole album floats on gorgeous concrete clouds, piloted by Craig, scudding along above winter-stripped trees, on the dirty edge of a small town, bellowing down at the bemused masses, back-lit and blown out by the sun, singing God's own lullaby, so loud it'll flatten your head.
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