Paper, the debut full-length release from London’s Gideon Wolf, opens subtly, with a bare, crisp piano hovering in a cloud of stark, minor key notes. You may think you have a clear idea where the piece is headed, but around two and a half minutes things take a decidedly more foreboding turn with swells of unsettling feedback and panned glitches slowly bleeding into the frame. By five minutes, the previously somber beauty of the piano is overwhelmed by vaguely disturbing, wordless vocals, and as the rest of the music fades, only these sounds remain, an a cappella lament of swirling, claustrophobic dread.
So goes the remainder of Paper, which embodies perfectly the old saw about the one thing constant in life being change. None of these excursions remain staid or static for long, never content to settle into a single pose before morphing and manifesting into something else entirely. “Cathedral” is layers of soulful, unaccompanied vocal layering, but not in the ethereal, reverb-drenched Julianna Barwick fashion – this is direct, uncompromising, raw, visceral, emotional. By the time we reach “The Unknown”, with its tidal pools of shrieking strings, we’re at a fiery peak that descends sharply and jarringly with this track’s abrupt shift to cavernous piano a third of the way through. Eventually, the fragile notes begin to blur and lose focus, sweeping backwards as if through a wind tunnel, lost into the ether of the song’s sheer momentum.
“Nine Hundred Miles” moves into glitchy Kid A territory, all burbling, glitchy beats, piano washes and looped vocals, before eventually dissolving in a landslide of strings. It’s here you begin to notice the cyclical quality of the album as a whole: voice to piano, piano to voice, strings to piano, piano to strings. With very few instrumental elements, there’s a sense of pull and release, of tension and drama.
Perhaps the most beautiful and simple track on the album is “Preservation”, built from a shambling floor of ominous strings, all bracketed in gorgeous melody, until the familiar layers of voice slip effortlessly into “All Of Us”, a drone-laced piano affair that eventually surrenders to bits of bursting static and sonic pulses. One thing’s for sure with Paper, a track never finishes where it began. There’s a suspense here, and a sense of excitement and surprise, that one so often finds lacking in similar experimental composers. We close with a revisiting of “Nine Hundred Miles”, which handily covers most of the album’s previous musical themes before closing on a terrifying pig-pile of swelling feedback guitars.
Gideon Wolf is the project of Tristan Shorr, who, as the press release from Fluid Audio points out, had no prior training in music before deciding to devote his life to the craft at age twenty-nine. The impressive list of credentials which follows in his bio proves that he made the right decision. These impressive recordings are ‘informed by the concept of narrative, memory and place’, and while these may seem familiar themes to fans of the genre, Shore holds an undoubtedly unique perspective in his expression of those concepts. Paper is described as akin to a train journey through abruptly shifting landscapes, “blurred but vivid”, and truth be told, it’s an apt metaphor for the staggering journey we take with these seven pieces; they can serve as field maps to any real or imaginary landscape, or, as Shore himself suggests, a haunting, powerful hymn to a London both real and conjured in memory. Paper will inevitably mean something different to each listener; isn’t that what the best music is supposed to do? (Zachary Corsa)