The word ‘shelter’ tends to convey protection from adversity. It connotes a confined space offering refuge against broad and injurious exposure; in essence, small against large. Eagerly awaited here at ACL, the second release of Dutch one-man outfit Silmus has arrived to offer an opposing interpretation: shelter strives to convey discovery outside our comforting but limiting town or city, providing a soundtrack to which new areas beyond seem intrinsically connected. Places less touched by interfering hands; places bare to those discovering them, but flourishing with the experiences of others. The record also heralds the first glimpses of summer, so if that word alone conjures images of secluded bike rides and rustic exploration rather than noisy festivals and crowded beaches, this could well be a record for you.
Like its predecessor, shelter is dominated by acoustic guitar and supplemented by keys both digital and acoustic. But now the piano plays a more substantial supporting role, even assuming centre stage in the record’s closing third. The instrument’s greater dynamic range and tonality is well utilised, and its patient emergence into the spotlight creates an broad sense of development across the album. Individually, the pieces remain tightly constructed despite the efforts of their ambient and post-rock proclivities – that most don’t reach even the four-minute mark means a constant sense of momentum and development. Rarely does Silmus rest on repetitious laurels.
Yet, the record’s transporting spell through its first half is not broken by this. Reluctant to infringe on the listener, the music instead respectfully treads a circuitous path while clothed in neutral tones. All too easy would it have been to layer drums or percussion beneath the second track “remembrance”, but its rolling 3/4 guitar part provides adequate – yet gentle – thrust on its own. Even when the volume does lift in “leaving darkness”, the percussive claps that enter at 2:27 prove something of a false crescendo, being spaced farther apart than they could have been. The pieces advance quickly, but always bearing restraint.
During tracks seven to nine, however, richer colours are mixed into the pastel palette. “you have the words and i listen” is the lengthiest track at nearly six minutes, and also the highlight. Ambient layers spill over each other to the careless caress of piano chords, before building with a growl beneath a piano motif that swings from serene to anguished. The fluctuating time changes and capricious mood ensnare the listener.
Through this and the following two pieces, palpable and captivating is the deterioration of disposition. Vanquishing daily ritual may be liberating, for both body and mind, but a mind untethered is unpredictable – who knows to what darkest reaches feral thoughts will flee? It is a gentle paradox that whenever we arrive somewhere new, irresistable can be the urge to look backwards at how we got there. Perhaps Silmus fell prey to that backward glance, and lost his way.
Whatever happened, his most compelling music so far was borne of it. And, as the album’s closer, “follow me”, suggests, exploration always has its end; there will always be a way back home. (Chris Redfearn)