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John Chantler - Still Light, Outside [1703 Skivbolaget - 2015]

John Chantler's "Still Light, Outside" is an album of subtley textured but often sonically abrasive or distorted drone / deep listening avant garde.  Some of the sounds most frequently heard are sustained organ chords, high pitched electronic tones, and distorted guitar noise.  The pacing is quite slow, with 4 tracks lasting nearly 10 minutes, each a slowly unfolding space in which the central elements remain largely static, while a murky flotsam of others murmur softly beneath.

The organ playing is quite emotional and poignant, providing a plaintive soul to the album that otherwise would have wholly absent.  It has a tone of mystic reverence, a reflection of the eternal vastness, the disolution of into infinity.  I am a huge fan of Messiaen, Bach and other composers of solo organ music, a woefully underappreciated form, and as such, this album hit me on a very personal level immediately.

Every track contains organ in some form, used as a minimalist backdrop in the opener "Still Light, Outside" or the second part of "The Long Shadow of Decline", the 3 part piece that comprises the other 3 tracks of the album.  In the 2nd piece, there is a majestic sequence of chords, strident and angelic in its symmetric patterns of consonant shapes, reminding me with its elegance of the higher order beyond all personal experience, and the patient smoothness with which it moves.

These passages of traditional classical beauty are curiously contrasted by the piercing high frequencies which dominate the first half of "The Long Shadow of Decline - Pt 1" and the final piece, "Pt 3".  Shrill in a way that would be found abrasive to almost any listener, these sounds none-the-less appear, gradually morph and dissapear again at the same glacial pace as the rest of the record, something that feels nearly unbearable with these kinds of tones.  Accompanying these tones are all manner of muffled fluttering, beeping and wrenching electronic racket, similar to the unwanted noise that accompanies a radio signal.  Surprisingly, I find the spiritual tone of the rest of the album is not, in fact, undermined by these passages.  A warm drone still pulses beneath the shrill din, which tends to give away after about 5 or 6 minutes in each case it occurs, settling back into a sense of contemplative, solitary contentedness. 

Thus, John Chantler's "Still Light, Outside" is a more difficult album than it could've been without such harshness included, but also more of an enigmatic one, presenting both pleasure and pain with the same meditative bent.  I find it has to be played at a very quiet volume, but I enjoy the spirit behind this album greatly.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Josh Landry
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