I went skiing once; before I’d boarded the plane I had flu - stomach was desirous to find a path out of throat. The second morning post-arrival I fell on a patch of ice like a cartoon character and a top front tooth went through a bottom lip. I spent the rest of the week meandering around the trails removed from the resort. It was an interesting time; on one hand, it was forlorn and… long - but on the other it was serene and melancholic and left me with a lot of time to think: it felt like a private odyssey, a voyage of discovery.
Alms is a musical equivalent of that, though it summons images on a greater scale: of storms relenting to placidity as a ship settles upon the water’s surface, a radar pulsing intermittently; temples collapsing; flying over endless plains with air screaming through an open door and electronics sparking in and out of life. This might seem overwrought, but it’s difficult to express what it sounds like in terms other than the most personal without failing to impart the essence of what makes it brilliant. Straight-forward account doesn’t do it justice; for example, while opener 'Golem' consists of the layering of a recurring scraping noise, tremulous murmurings of static, low drones and (what could be) a gong being beaten in the bottom of a well, the track’s solemnity stems from something past those words; from the balance and inter-linking of sound and tone. It's this that leads to something expressive of time, place and gradual decline.
'On Golden Pond' manages a similar feat: its combination of creaking floor and dinner-table talk samples winding for four minutes before giving to the sound of an ancient church bell; the effect is of listening in on an urbane conversation beneath which lurks something more threatening. Of course on first listening it sounds like nothing more than two men in a room shouting ‘we are pretension, hear us roar!’ But it becomes, in increments, unsettling and ominous. 'Pawk' - in rather stark contrast - is a sore thumb on the record’s face because it is built around an obvious musical element: a hesitant, but beautiful piano line unfurling amid field recordings of animals, an almost subliminal rumbling and the electronic transmissions that remain like a hang-over from previous track ‘Lasers, Tracers, Radar Drones’. The former is the crash to earth - analogue, organic - to the latter’s whirring orbit.
I’ve had Alms for around two months now, and in that time I’ve read the views other listeners have scattered to the digital wind: those that love it emphasise, as I have tried, the terrain that the record creates - the snow fields it reminds them of. Those that hate it refer to it in terms of its constituent hums and clatters. There is no guarantee that something will lie behind these elements for all, but - for those who feel the surface noise this sometimes resembles - Alms contains a potential affirmation of whatever reminiscence one finds at its elusive core.
8Daniel Hayward's Score