Asperities is as close to commercial as one can get in modern composition without compromise. Accessible yet deep, Julia Kent‘s cello-based music provides an entry point to those who might not otherwise have considered listening to instrumental music. Her new album offers a mix of pensive, emotional tunes and the stringed equivalent of bangers. Credit her background in Rasputina and Antony & the Johnsons for the knowledge of how to walk the line.
Even apart from the music, Kent’s presentation exposes the workings of a complex and mature mind. The cover seems to indicate two personalities cleaving together, or the resolution of duality. The press release describes the album as “the layers of sound peeling back to reveal a beating, bloody human heart.” Contrast this with the majority of releases in the genre, which bend over backwards to be polite. As Kent puts it, “it seems like a particularly dark time in the world”, and she makes music to match.
This is not to say that Asperities is frightening; but it is foreboding. The cello is dark-toned to begin with, and Kent’s is black. By looping her sounds, she creates the impression of a small ensemble, divided by dissonance and consonance, dark and light. The word asperity means “roughness, sharpness or harshness”, and Kent’s music is a mirror. When the electronic clouds descend, she even approaches the edge of the industrial avant-garde. And yet, while dissonant at times, her music is never abrasive; no ear-shredding tones surface, although one suspects that they lurk behind the framework of these compositions. “Lac Des Arcs” seems ready to erupt at any time, but never does; that event will occur later, on “Terrain.”
Such moments seem tailor-made for the basement of a Berlin club. As the LP progresses, the listener grows comfortable with discomfort. The rustle of “Empty States” is like that of home towns burning. But Kent sends out soothing messages as well, especially at the beginning and the end, wrapping the darkness in a cloak of light. The opening half of “Hellibore” and the entirety of “Tramontana” imply consistency in the face of chaos, their twinned timbres suggesting the splice of the cover image. And “Heavy Eyes” is a respite of sorts, offering the tranquility of a nap or a long embrace. Kent acknowledges the allure of darkness – even allows it to share her space – but sets its boundaries in strings: this far, no farther. (Richard Allen)