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Celer, "Engaged Touches (Expanded and Remastered)"

Engaged Touches (Expanded and Remastered)Will Long's ambitious campaign to remaster and reissue key highlights from Celer's overwhelmingly vast discography continues with this expanded reincarnation of 2009's Engaged Touches (appropriately released on fellow ex-pat/ambient artist Ian Hawgood's Home Normal label during its Japan-based era). The album is an especially noteworthy release within the Celer canon for a couple of reasons, but the big one is that it ranks alongside 2008's Discourses of the Withered and 2019's Xièxie as one of the project's perennial fan favorites. While my own pantheon of essential Celer albums does not always align with that of said fanbase, this one's prominent place makes sense, as it was definitely one of the most high-profile albums released during the white-hot height of Celer-mania. As such, it was probably one of the first Celer albums that many people heard. It is also inarguably one of the strongest albums recorded during the project's early days as a husband-and-wife duo with Danielle Baquet-Long (Chubby Wolf) and most of the other contenders were not yet widely available before Bandcamp transformed the musical landscape. Given that, a reissue was both welcome and inevitable, but those who already love this album will likely be thrilled by the prospect of hearing it in its newly expanded and remastered form.

Two Acorns

Much like how Wong Kar Wai was unable to resist tweaking the color grading of his films when the opportunity to release 4K restorations of his oeuvre presented itself, this version of Engaged Touches has been transformed and reshaped a bit by Long. Obviously, just about any artist can find room for improvement with the benefit of hindsight, but assessing whether this expansion is a significant improvement over the original is a bit tricky given the nature of the music (endlessly repeating slow-motion loops). In any case, this new version is roughly three times as long as the original (now either 3 CDs or 5 vinyl sides), but it is also two versions of the same album: the first two discs offer a new version with extended track lengths, while the third disc remains faithful to the original in every way except being remastered by Stephan Mathieu.

Naturally, it sounds great, but so did the previously available digital version, so I don't know how long ago that remastering took place. Notably, there are also a couple of new pieces included ("In Bright The Days" and "If Disabuse Is So Hard, Then"), but their combined length is a mere four minutes. Consequently, the album's transformation is essentially a durational one, albeit with some subtle enhancements to the flow (placement of field recordings, insertion of the two brief pieces between "Unless They Were Beautiful" and "What Our Mouths Make Them," etc.).

That said, a significant part of Celer's appeal has always been durational in nature, so the effect of the expansion is definitely felt and significantly transforms the listening experience. Listening deeply to one of Celer's major works is like being completely immersed in someone else's dream, so the tone of the album is arguably more important than any other aspect, though there are certainly exceptions to that statement. In general, however, how much I enjoy a Celer album comes down to which particular strain of billowing, looping, soft-focus melancholy resonates with me the most. In fact, an album like this one almost shares more common ground with a perfume than it does with music, as its pleasures are akin to an intoxicating spell.

In keeping with that theme, characterizing the spell of Engaged Touches feels a lot like trying to describe wine or a fragrance with terms like "earth," "smoke," and "leather": it is more of an evocative art than an exacting science. For me, this album feels like "faded grandeur" mingled with "watching rain-soaked landscapes roll by from the window of a clattering train while I drift off to sleep." That impression is subjective as hell, of course, but the "train" bit is not entirely a projection, as recurring interludes of train and train station sounds are a consistent thread running throughout the entire album.

To my ears, "Openings Of Love (Fireworks)" is the album's sublime zenith, as beautiful slow-moving swells languorously roll across a quivering bed of drones for nearly 20 minutes while leaving a subtly accumulating haze of overtones, feedback, and shifting harmonies in their wake. The expanded version is slightly longer than the original version, but it is the sort of piece that could have easily been expanded to an entire album, as it is an absolute masterpiece of patience, control, and glacial transformation. Another variation of that feat is "Hanging Herself On The Lonely Fifth Column," as a lushly romantic two-chord loop steadily accumulates an intensifying trail of gently oscillating decay. Elsewhere, "Unless They Were Beautiful" endlessly loops a string motif that evokes the delirious cinematic romanticism of a poignant moment suspended forever in time. One of the album's shortest pieces is an unexpected highlight as well, as "Separations And Reactions" unfolds as a two-minute fantasia of shimmering, watery dream-chords over an elusive and enigmatic rumble of field recordings.

Given that Engaged Touches features at least four top-tier pieces from Celer's duo era, it is basically required listening for any self-respecting fan of the project, but whether that necessitates diving into the expanded version is entirely dependent on the degree of said fandom. For me, the single-album version of Engaged Touches is immersive enough without any further expansion, but the inclusion of Danielle's photography and her related poem make the physical release feel personal and almost sacred in a way that a digital album cannot hope to match. This is a beautiful object in its own small, quiet, and minimal way, which nicely mirrors how I feel about the music.

Listen here.