This year’s final instalment of Preservation’s Circa series arrives just as I think I’ve worked out the coded typography on the covers – at least, the penny’s finally dropped that each cover has the phrase ‘CIRCA2012′ on there – and it’s a fine way to end the year. Opening like it’s materialising on the Enterprise, Burnt Offerings is a mixture of ambient impressionism, and guitar-centric studies. In some ways, it’s the proverbial mixed-bag – you’re never quite sure which direction Nat Hawks will go in next. “Caphonic Fog” probably arrived too late to fit on many Hallowe’en mixtapes but its combination of overlaid ‘ways of being happy’ voices and ghostly piano tinkling away through the second half is suitably atmospheric and spooky, like wandering through a haunted dancehall.
However, it’s followed by the bright “Pelts” where guitars play off against each other, gradually building layer upon layer – starting with a figure that sounds not unlike the snippet of Metallica that DJ Shadow sampled on “What Does Your Soul Look Like” and ending up with Fripp-esque ambient tones and the crunchy sound of concrete waves crashing upon the shore. So, two contrasting styles that emphasise Hawks’ ability to build up atmosphere, but don’t necessarily feel comfortable when placed adjacently.
Eventually, it all begins to make sense, whether it’s the strumming of “Shoeg.” backed with all manner of bleeps and burbles that gradually take over and dominate, or the two-part “Never Let Me Go”, the first part of which sounds like it is channelling some Elizabethan melody, before giving way to the lengthy reprise. Rather than offering a brief nod to the original, Padna goes for the slowed-down, dubby approach that is nearly three times longer than part one, and disappears into all manner of cloudy ambience and climatic effects.
By attempting to reach the same goal (uneasy ambience) from two starting-off points (guitar or atmospheric synths), Burnt Offerings finally gives the impression of unity to the listener but getting there is not always straightforward and the album does not sit together as neatly as some of the other albums in the Circa series do. But there’s enough here to warrant repeated visits to unlock the mysteries therein, rather than just letting it play out ineffectually in the background, and as such it’s a fitting way to bring down the curtain on 2012. (Jeremy Bye)