The Cray Twins - In the Company of Architects [Fang Bomb - 2019]The Cray Twins, comprised of Paul Baran and Gordon Kennedy, is a deep listening and musique concrete outfit which uses a variety of sound sources from instruments to analog synthesizers and field recordings. In the Company of Architects is their second album, following 2016's The Pier.
My initial impression of the album and its titular thirty eight minute opening piece is of intense, deliberate slowness, a sensation like all of time has slowed, stretched, or blurred. Sparse, metallic bell tones leave seemingly infinite contrails which gradual congeal into others. Singing bowl-like resonances grow over several minutes to a consuming, insistent volume. The myriad sound sources emerge, vaguely identifiable at first, then dissolve into a shrouded abyss. A muffled operatic voice murmurs beneath the drones.
There are visionary moments within this murky melancholy, but I am left feeling that the rich tones recorded by these musicians have been squandered, buried in too much reverb, allowed to stagnate in a soupy, non-specific concoction in which the sounds' relation to each other or, indeed, the purpose of the entire piece, are vague at best. The liner notes list such curious instruments as 'microtonal saxophone' and 'modular synthesizer', but I fail to hear any evidence of such novel timbres in this typically 'dark ambient' drift.
I do very much enjoy the final ten minutes of the title piece, which take on great emotion with some melodic solidification in the form of an organ chord progression and wordless soprano vocals. It's something akin to an ambient post rock crescendo and has at first romantic, heartfelt tone, which resolves into a wide eyed mystic dissonance. I wish that this sense of direction had arrived sooner, as thirty minutes was too long to wait.
I very much like the bands self written bio, in which they describe capturing the natural world in their work, of making music from "bird's wings and human voices". In fact, I wish I heard more of the natural world in this album. Only very rarely did I perceive the sense of larger space that one gets from an outdoor field recording; the air, the wind, the birds. It was painfully absent from the glum, disconnected coldness of the initial half hour, which is 90% bells and resonant drones.
The other two pieces are much shorter at five and twelve minutes respectively. The shortest, "The Absence of Architects", is an easier listen than the sluggish first piece, with a rapid development of flutes and string pads, soft field recordings of taps and clinks, and a spoken monologue from a female voice. While the narration is monotonous and rather inexpressive, it is well utilized by the Twins, who weave the sounds into a glowing ethereal nocturnal poem. It is Coil-esque, though lacks John Balance's charisma.
The twelve minute closer "Anarchitects" is much closer to the longer first piece, an ambient drift again, with many of the same timbres present, such as the singing bowl-like resonant tones, and the soprano, though this time she is more distant. Narration appears in moments here as well, this time animated and Shakespearian. Drum machines appear in the latter half of the track, and the track becomes a shadowy stygian dub. This track contains enough variety and timbral richness to feel like a surreal, magically charged world of the id, and does not overstay its welcome. As such, it is only the first piece I find tedious.
There were some enjoyable timbres on this record, but the placement of the sluggish thirty eight minute opener was off-putting. Nodding out in a dissonant blankness of metallic drones, the composition of this track is loose and arbitrary, with little sense of movement. I greatly enjoyed both of the albums' latter pieces, however, which utilized a greater number of sounds in a shorter span of time, and allowed the timbres to express themselves without the mask of excessive reverb / processing. I'm not sure I can recommend this album, but there is certainly talent and creativity emanating from the Cray Twins, and I'd like to hear an album of shorter, more directed pieces.Josh Landry