The brand new Palaver Press is another great entry in the growing canon of self-made labels, and owner Jeremy Young already has a stellar track record as a member of the highly regarded (The) Slowest Runner (In All The World) and Sontag Shogun. The first three releases on the label all stem from his szilárd persona, as mysterious as the rope bridge that connects the two aforementioned projects. To these ears, Spokes is the finest of the three, but for an exemplary review of the other two, look no further than the latest issue of Textura.
Spokes is “a meditation on dialogue and the languages of sound”, loosely based on Charles Baudelaire’s “Les Fleurs Du Mal”. The attention is captured whenever the guest speakers begin to read, beginning with Catherine Métayer only a few seconds in: for a long time, I lived under vast colonnades …. Métayer’s lovely intonations draw the listener in like good literature, making good on the promise of the beloved author. The listener can almost smell the salt air, sense the surrounding blue. And then the static fades, and the music begins.
The “meditation on dialogue” may be obvious, but the “languages of sound” are not. szilárd’s study begins as sine waves that nudge their way into drone. By the time a guitar enters the frame, the far corners have already been painted, but there’s still room for bass, for pause, for reflective turns. Are these the swells mentioned by Baudelaire or has szilárd invented his own? And what, pray tell, is the gathering section about, embedded in the center of the track? Have words and sounds fallen on the floor, and are the guests sweeping them up in hopes that the host won’t notice the infraction?
The subversion of expectation lies at the heart of Spokes, which refuses to go in the direction that its development seems to indicate. So when a cat starts meowing at the other end of the break, it’s as if the pet (Furball, 1991-2011, a jolly old feline) had been tasked with introducing the piano and could not quite find the words. Or perhaps these are the words, the language of another species. After all, a meow is more than just sound; it’s purposeful communication, even if we fail to understand.
When Aki Onda speaks of “forests of symbols” and “a dark but profound harmony”, he seems to be speaking of the music itself, impenetrable as a poet’s meaning. We can “tie (a) poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it” (Collins), but this brings us no closer to its truth; and even when an author has one truth in mind, the students of poetry may find another. The same is true of music, which lands in the ear of the beholder, frequently removed from the composer’s intended interpretation. If I choose to hear a fire extinguisher at the end of the second track, suffocating the ambient embers with a fine foam, who’s to say that it isn’t there? Or the suddenly brittle sounds of the fourth, frozen in the brittle air and left to languish on the cold, hard ground?
Every crunch and wash is similarly open to interpretation: not “just the facts” (an identification of each sound source) but the impressions and associations they engender. Occasionally the album launches into melody, only to retreat into abstraction. These are the synapses that fail to fire, the messages that never get through: wave upon wave of the beautiful almost. “spokes 33” provokes a fond sadness, a clinging cellophane of near-despair that in another context could be a horrible awe.
A more obvious album would have been a failure. This is the way to tackle Baudelaire: sideways, without regard for capture. The artist remains in one’s peripheral vision, elusive, unknowable, thick with implication. Spokes connects one end of the wheel to the other, but the tumbling continues: a spider web of ideas, viewed from different angles, like the guises of a performer. (Richard Allen)