A little under a year ago, reviewing Celer’s then latest release Dying Star, i made the rather rash remark that with its “quietly massive majesty … [it] may just be Celer’s masterpiece”. i’m not going to retract that statement—it remains for me the most striking album in the Celer corpus—but it’s been fascinating to hear a pair of albums this year that draw very near to it, in terms of both aspiration and execution.
The first comes from the Celer-offshoot Chubby Wolf, the result of Danielle Baquet-Long’s solo explorations. As i’ve remarked in the past, left to her own devices Baquet-Long pursues a more austere, sonically complex soundworld than that of her duo work with husband Will, and new release Los que No Son Gentos is no exception. That’s not to suggest it lacks warmth—far from it—but the ‘heat’ it emits is soft and residual, not blazing; there are no overt grand gestures here. The 14 tracks are founded on slowly-moving foundations that for the most part keep themselves at a distance, not so much aloof as reserved; and their mode of expression is pithy and succinct, many of the tracks lasting under three minutes. Yet their miniature stature belies a remarkable intensity with which the music speaks. It’s a paradox neatly encapsulated in Baquet-Long’s familiarly loquacious track-titles, which (like so much poetry) are simultaneously immediate—more than once invoking desire—and alienating. One quickly realises that each track is not merely concise, but concentrated, boiled down into a richly undiluted essence, in which each shifting agglomeration of notes, each surging bass protrusion becomes utterly compelling. Thankfully, this is clearly what matters most; once again, Baquet-Long flies in the face of so much contemporary ambient music, that simply regards sounding pretty (which is, in any case, subjective) as its primary goal. Los que No Son Gentos shifts in and out of loveliness, but the weight and power of its conviction never lets up for a second. It’s perhaps perverse to single out any individual track in such a context as this, but “You are the Description that brings me out of Myself… But cannot Give Me anywhere to go” is especially impressive, bringing to mind the best work of Jonathan Coleclough.
In my first encounter with Los que No Son Gentos, i accidentally had the volume turned down lower than usual, resulting in my being forced to listen much harder than i should have needed to. But there’s nothing accidental about the dynamic restraint heard in the latest Celer album to emerge, Noctilucent Clouds. Intended as a successor to their 2008 release Nacreous Clouds, the similarities are in name only. The duo pushes their (and, thereby, the listener’s) patience further than ever before here, spending nearly 100 minutes exploring material often at the edge of audibility, a series of “slowly moving, randomly-appearing swathes of high lights, and deep blacks” (Will Long’s words). The effect is akin to the music of Morton Feldman, where silence almost becomes as substantial as sound, and where the minutest of gestures is highly significant. The music occupies a kind of ‘steady state’, evolving slowly but irrevocably, always as from a great distance; it’s exquisite, and absolutely riveting, becoming all the more so the closer the material tends to silence. Technically, it never does, though; beneath everything else, a very soft but omnipresent layer of tape hiss keeps the music aloft at all times, cushioning it from absolute silence. The sheer breathtaking naturality of Noctilucent Clouds harks back to no less than Eno’s Music for Airports; ultimately, it stops feeling like the product of a conscious creative act, which is perhaps the best compliment one can pay it. An amazing album, best heard through headphones if you want to experience every nuance; otherwise, make sure you’re listening in a very, very quiet room.
Los que No Son Gentos is a limited edition of 200, released in June by Dragon’s Eye Recordings; while most have probably been sold by now, copies can still be had from the ever reliable Norman Records. Noctilucent Clouds suffers no such limitations, released digitally via Celer’s Bandcamp page.