Richard Skelton, "Four Workings"
This latest album from Skelton seems intended to be a major new statement, though not quite a formal follow-up to last year's These Charms May be Sung Over a Wound, as double LPs are a real rarity in the prolific composer's discography. If it was not intended as such, it certainly has the ambitious conceptual framework and focused power of his strongest work. For these four pieces, Skelton used a self-devised divination deck of Proto-Indo-European word roots for inspiration, making the album the fruit of an occult-tinged and antiquarian word game. Skelton also maintained the same restricted palette and duration for each piece, yet the tone varies significantly between them, as he treated each composition as a meditation upon a single, unvoiced question. To some degree, Four Workings is an especially ambient-minded release, as the hypnotically repeating melodic fragments are reminiscent of Celer's most loop-driven fare. The similarities mostly end there, however, as the billowing ambiance is often a smokescreen for a more sharp-edged and sophisticated undercurrent that slowly emerges from the murky depths. This is an unusually strong suite of compositions for Skelton's current phase, and the first piece in particular is probably among his finest moments to date.
The opening "[ ken- ] commencement" initially takes shape as a slow, sad melody of distorted string swells that languorously unfolds. Notably, however, the notes start to accumulate a shimmering wake with a sharp metallic edge. That element ultimately steals the show, as it merges with some deep drones around the piece's halfway point to blossom into a quavering crescendo of complex, bittersweet harmonies. It calls to mind a spectral orchestra playing an achingly beautiful slow-motion symphony of notes that lazily streak, quiver, and break apart. It is a damn-near perfect piece. The central melody, dreamily fluttering core, and frayed textures all combine to leave a deep and haunting impression. The following "[ aus- ] radiance" is a bit more billowing and soft-focused, evoking the flickering play of sunlight across a bank of dark, slow-moving clouds. The third piece ("[ aus- ] radiance") initially has the same aesthetic, but unexpectedly blooms into yet another album highlight. At times, it evokes a time-stretched recording of an organist soundtracking a silent horror film, but with a twist: the lovelorn organist unconsciously transforms everything into a wistful reverie. Gradually, it turns into an angelic yet steadily darkening haze that cocoons the oblivious organ melody. The closer ("[ ghƒì- ] releasement") takes more time than usual to get going. What begins as a glacially see-sawing pulse weaves through a fog of quietly roiling noise to become a hazily remembered/half-imagined ‚Äò70s synthy space ambient album a la Tangerine Dream. While I wish that final piece was more of a dynamic culmination than a vaguely meditative comedown, the previous pieces admittedly set the bar unfairly high. If something like Four Workings is what results whenever Skelton makes up his own archeologically themed divination deck, I would see little incentive to abandon that strategy.
Samples can be found here.