A swelling synth and plaintive piano offer the barest whisper of a greeting, and cast a malaise over a distant field recording of the hum of everyday life. It is an unassuming entrance to an album that slowly yet insistently burrows its way into the depths of the listener. Stories From Elsewhere, from New Zealand’s compositional talisman, Rhian Sheehan, is the confident and calculated work of a master craftsman. ‘Craft’ here seems the most apt word, redolent as it is of diligent labour performed in solitude and in harmony with natural surroundings – ultimately offering something whose polished exterior often belies the intricacy of the skills required to hone it.
Sheehan’s previous offering, 2011’s Seven Tales of The North Wind, focused on textures and minimalism. Stories… certainly does not forgo this approach, but it adopts a broader palette of voice and genre. The first two tracks lay the foundations for what appears to be an accomplished but nonetheless routine cinematic post-rock effort, yet later tracks such as “Little Sines” and “Nocturne 1985” widen the soundscape with skittish electronics and upbeat grooves that wouldn’t be out of place on an M83 and 65daysofstatic record. That’s not to downplay the impact of the more traditional pieces – the crescendoes of “A Thimble Full of Sorrow” and the superb “Nusquam” cast an arresting spell as swathes of strings from strident to sorrowful envelop.
It is a dynamic record – its orchestral peaks an organic swell of cathartic release on occasion hindered by the backing of fairly pedestrian drum tracks (perhaps Mono stand alone in having mastered the fusing of these strange bedfellows); its troughs often materialising in shorter, ambient pieces that breathe a degree of levity in the emotionally heavy whole. Fragments of melody echo across different pieces, in varied voices and keys. The sum of all this is supremely considered and affecting composition that makes me thankful, in this era of 99p track downloads and digital mix taping, that the art of crafting an album as a singular body of work is far from dying out. (Chris Redfearn)