2014 has been a busy year for Alex Smalley. In March, he released a lovely 3″ on Hibernate as Olan Mill. In May, he teamed up with Simon Bainton as Pausal for the Infraction LP Along the Mantic Spring. Now June is the month of Seismology, Smalley’s collaboration with soundscaper Keung Mandelbrot.
The earlier releases are sedate, drifting between the realms of ambience and modern composition. Land Cycles is especially restrained and impressionistic: wisps of melody wafting through the air. The eight untitled tracks – live takes, demos and samples – are unadorned and at times even raw (or as raw as peaceful ambient modern composition can be). Along the Mantic Spring is fuller and crisper, the post-production buffing the tracks to a reflective sheen. The tracks sparkle like morning dew and tinkle like wind chimes. The 15-minute closing track, “Trinity”, serves as a fine transition to Seismology, which begins with a similarly extended piece.
When one plays “Trinity” and “Flinn-Engdahl” back-to-back, one receives the impression of an intentional segue. As one track fades out, another fades in, and for a few moments, we remain on familiar ground. But the new collaborator brings new ideas, and the timbre shifts, sweet stringed loops yielding to stranger tones. The sudden buzz at 3:23 sounds like the beginning of a new track, but is instead the beginning of a new segment, and in this case, a new sound. Synth tones ride like motorized vehicles along the back highways of the mix while a bass guitar sounds a gentle warning. The importance of the album’s title becomes apparent; these are seismic shifts in Smalley’s sound, and this new collaboration is an investigation of new territories. The label calls it “mind bending noise”, but don’t worry, this isn’t noise in the abrasive, scare-the-cat sense as much as it is the sound that breaks the silence. The buzz extends into a drone, striking different notes, refusing to sound discordant despite its harsh nature. The final minute is a whirl of pulse and frequency, more Mego than Hibernate but welcome all the same.
In previously published reviews for Hiraeth and Home, I expressed an admiration for Olan Mill’s occasional rougher tones. On those works, the occasional foray into dissonance produced a beguiling contrast with the dominant tones. “Basilcata” is a wish come true. Blindfolded, no fan would ever peg this twitchy synth beast as the work of Smalley ~ which helps one to appreciate the contributions of Keung Mandelbrot. The same holds true for the bleepy beginning of “Linear Elasticity”, which gives way to an all-out drone – one of the best segments of any Olan Mill-related track to date, matched a track later on “Geophone” by something that sounds like a processed organ and bagpipe parade.
Mandelbrot is the perfect person to inspire a change in timbre, as his own work has morphed over the past decade. Mandelbrot first appeared on our radar as part of the post-rock band Mandelbrot Set. As that band became inactive, Mandelbrot continued to release solo works, emphasizing drone and pedal over post-rock guitar. One suspects that as Mandelbrot has had a sandpaper effect on Smalley, Smalley has had a velvet effect on Mandelbrot. It will be interesting to hear where they go from here, both individually and as a duo. This collaboration has benefitted them both. (Richard Allen)
Release date: 6 June