Slow Year – Slow Year

A new release from Hush Hush Records, Slow Year’s self-titled record spans a brisk 32 minutes and 7 tracks.  The runtime is just long enough to immerse you in the sonic environment Edward Haller has engineered from, seemingly, a million pieces.

From the very start, Slow Year shimmers and bristles with countless particles of sound – both musical and textural.  “Sparrow Crowned” is a disjointed, revolving mass of sonic found objects.  Distant, rippling synthesizer sweeps over lo-fi bursts of machine noise.  There’s a gentle and amorphous melody that draws you into and through the heart of the track, spurred by intermittent kick thumps.  “Thank you,” an anonymous filmic sound bite repeats with audible relief.  And then, appearing not unlike a black storm cloud across this sparkling, golden sky, a pitched-down vocal melody warbles with melancholy; it’s tone both alien and soulful.

I don’t know that it’s a standard thinking or any kind of universal constant that electronic music is inextricable from a “science fiction” or fantasy aesthetic.  To be fair, electronic producers are asking relatively ‘normal’ folks to hang up their desire for guitars and other trappings of popular mainstream musical culture in exchange for a bevy of sounds that are, insofar as we know, impossible in the natural world (unless, of course, one is aided by psychotropic drugs.)  Even so, I’d prefer to think that it is the fantastic, and not necessarily the pharmacological, that is the driver behind the color and shape of forward-thinking, intelligent dance music.  (ed: But I’m obviously wrong!)

More to the point, the imagery that music evokes is often times the lens through which I examine electronic music – especially when that electronic music is predominantly instrumental.  I can’t say that I have the same vision in my head when I listen through “Lord Pretender” each time, but the progression of the track – the sequence of events – is uncanny.  It begins in one place and takes you to another.  Nothing new in that regard, but without a strict four-to-the-floor drum beat and explicit, over-the-top bass and treble melodies, discerning that progression and appreciating the unique journey, beginning to end, of a song like “Lord Pretender” becomes a challenge.  Lazy listeners may not endure it, but spending time with a song is much like spending time with a person – you will most likely develop an appreciation for them (and it) over time.

Slow Year, both the album and the artist, don’t appear to be hung up on providing the listener with footing for each step of the way.  Sometimes, as new sounds are introduced in the progression of a song, the overlap with established sounds has a “blinding” effect on the ear; there’s too much new information occupying one instant to accurately decipher everything that is happening.  The handiest tool in Slow Year’s possession is space – space that is established using reverbs, but also space established in the open expanses between loops and one-shot samples.  “Vermona Hiss” is a perfect example of this principle.  Rhythmic bits and pieces fall in and out of place, strung together by roving, string-like drone, flecked with digital abnormalities.  The beat produced by the drums is superseded by the simple, but informative, bass synth – which forces out a broken marriage of rhythm between the two.  With Slow Year, the things you don’t hear are just as important as those you do.

“Blood Apple” changes gears, however, and provides a much more identifiable, “militant” drumbeat.  The kick drum itself sounds noticeably more traditional and clean in comparison to other kick drum sounds used throughout the record.  As the song continues, the drum becomes more insistent and builds into near-march.  Then, it relents mid-way through – only to begin the process of building up again.  The descending synth melody is also far more conventional than other melodies throughout the album, but as the second-to-last track it’s a refreshing change of pace that doesn’t betray the established approach Slow Year is taking to atmosphere and texture.  Conventional or not, nothing is actually simple on this record: every sound has it’s own sheen, it’s own quality, and it’s own life.  The songs, in a way, become ecosystems for both conflicting and complimentary life forms to engage one another.

An alternative view the sounds employed by Slow Year revolves around our memories of particular instruments and other noise-emitting objects.  The piano at the beginning “Song You Liked The Most” plays a hopeful and familiar chord progression – only, it’s set at the far end of an icy cathedral.  Pitch-affected vocals return with their otherworldliness: a recurring theme on this record and perhaps a key component Slow Year’s overall approach.  But at the heart of that sound – a shifting, robotic utterance – I can still discern the human breath pushing that sound out and into whatever effects processor stands between us.  The real magic, however, is that I might just be imagining that, and there never was a human there to begin with.

Slow Year ignores no detail.  It does not contain any inadvertent sound, nothing weak or mistaken or undecided.  Haller, clearly, spent an enormous amount of time and energy ensuring that the listener would not blink: there is no lapse in the forceful energy from the start of one song to the next; there is no single moment devoid of purpose where the listener can get away with tuning out only to come back with the next downbeat.  The music works fine as background noise, but that’s not how to get your money’s worth from Slow Year.  We recommend headphones and a half-hour block of “you-time” to appreciate this record.

Slow Year is, in parts, ethereal.  In other parts, it is hard and molten.  Sometimes, you’re in the home you grew up in, playing the family upright piano.  Other times, you are in a completely unknown corner of the universe evading capture.  The one constant throughout is Slow Year’s sonic quality.  It truly is a record that goes deeper and shows you more the longer you listen to it.