“Crystals are always forming,” say Leo Abrahams + Oliver Coates, and on this album, one can imagine the slow process in which they form, building on existing structures, sending tendrils across their surfaces like dendrites. The album contains a clear culmination, 14 seconds of coalescence that pass too swiftly but leave an indelible mark.
At the start, Abrahams’ untamed electronics flit across the sonic field, seemingly at war with Coates’ cello. Given Coates’ extensive background in Beethoven, Brahms and Bach, one might be surprised at the avant leanings of his approach, until one considers the fact that he has also worked with the likes of Ben Frost and Mara Carlyle. For Abrahams, connections with Brian Eno and David Holmes resonate: tradition overtaken by innovation over such a long period of time that the innovation has become tradition. In other words, it’s time to move forward, yet again – to churn the wheels and develop a new sonic vocabulary.
This vocabulary develops, letter by letter, like the aforementioned crystals. The cello mourns and crumples; the electronics console and cajole. The two are not used to being around each other, and yet they are tasked with learning how to relate. A bass sound anchors “II”, the cello seeking common ground by quoting a friend. Additional layers of each instrument pick up steam in the background like discarded selves banding together in protest. “III” starts off like a film reel in an insect-filled theatre, with a fog horn cutting the darkness. As the track progresses, the insects begin to sound more like cranky hand-wound clocks. Such experiments in timbre grab the listener’s attention, suggesting the intervention of a somewhat-mad god.
The war between the instruments eventually becomes a grudging duet. Neither wishes to cede prominence, but each realizes that it is enhanced by the presence of the other. When the thwacking gives way to a harpsichord vibe in “V”, something has shifted: pride and prejudice have given way to humility and understanding. The latter half of the album represents the grown crystals, boasting blended tones and harmonic convergences. “VI” and “VII” approach the drone field, low on protuberance, more sedimentary in nature. The latter tracks edge toward modern composition, providing room for Coates’ cello to reference its more distant influences. And yet the final push is so brief, the ending so sudden, that one wonders whether the artists are toying with expectation. The acoustic mind yearns for catharsis and here receives only a hint. It’s a wink to the consumer: crystals are always forming, and no one can control their boundaries. One would be hard-pressed to find a better metaphor for musical development. (Richard Allen)
Release date: October 8