variations for the celesta is the first release for Eilean Records, which is run by Mathias van Eecloo (Monolyth and Cobalt); it’s labelled “02”, but we expect to see 01 soon. It’s also the first physical release for twincities, whose debut album make a joyful noise made a small splash here last year. We initially had the quartet pegged as post-rock, but this is the work of one man, Fletcher McDermott, who recorded celesta to his phone and added other instruments along the way. It’s a quiet release, introspective but warm, a good way to start a new label.
Some of our readers may be asking, “what’s a celesta?” I did the same thing. The first time I heard the album I was impressed at the sound of the bells, especially the track “a ship’s bell (sings)” and its epilogue, “(sings)”. So where was the celesta? As it turns out, the instrument looks like a piano but sounds like bells. (Take another look at the cover; yes, that’s a keyboard!) The word itself means “heavenly”, and the description fits. We’re not sure if an angel gets its wings when a bell tone is struck rather than a bell, but we hope so.
While the notes are low throughout most of the release, they rise to the foreground in “prelude in E minor” and “a ship’s bell (sings)”. The effect is similar to that of placing a small hand-wound music box on top of a hollow dresser before playing. On the latter track, the celesta sounds like a ship’s bell rocking back and forth in the waves, oblivious to scales and arpeggios. On other parts of the album, it sounds more like a wind chime. Now I want a celesta. None are available on Amazon, although one may purchase a license plate liner that reads, “I’d rather be playing my celesta.” One can, however, order one from Yamaha and wait 3-4 months for it to be made.
Leaving the celesta for a moment, let’s list some of the other sounds. “and the guitar plays war hymns” and “sings” are dipped in static, while “prelude in E minor” contains grainy distortion, brought to life by the video. The former track nearly turns into a drone, but pulls back at the last moment. Many tracks contain the sound of distant conversation, their signals not quite getting through. The overlap of “faint whirs of the smallest motor” and “they carried teapots and tiny gas canisters” contains the sound of a telegraph; there is irony in the fact that the ancient signals are clearer than the modern ones. But in the end, the album is a showcase for an instrument that has spent too little time in the spotlight. The celesta may be shy, but she’s beautiful. (Richard Allen)