The Pier is a strange album that just gets stranger as it moves along, like a stream that picks up debris while it flows. In this case, the stream is drone and the debris is a mixture of field recordings, classical fragments and even folksong. Credit the keen minds of Paul Baran and Gordon Kennedy (The Cray Twins), who share their time with BJ Nilsen and others on this complicated excursion.
The album opens darkly, with foghorn electronics, sullen crackle and a sense of menace. When the last horn of “Torshavn” sounds, it opens the window to a swarm of electrical current. The first few tracks fall into the same category, although the drones are often smeared over other sources, such as a choral snippet in “Fianius 10.” This makes sense, as the album is concerned with the boundary ~ the pier ~ “where sound or perception breaks down.” In this case, one is almost able to grasp the words, but not quite; the selection sounds neither human nor mechanical.
The sounds begin to thin on the title track, as tones are extended and sources are culled. This lubricates the transition to more unusual work. A car engine introduces poetry and rally cries on “Duao 2”, the first sign that something is amiss. The choral sounds return, closer to the foreground; and then there’s an actual song (the dour “Song from a Black House”). The song is so unexpected that it doesn’t quite fit, arriving more than halfway into an hour-long set; it seems to work with the physical theme but against the metaphorical theme. Better are the amplified readings of the subsequent track, strangled in a sea of circuits, which eventually leads to the closing piece, in which the human element is finally warm. No more robotic recitals, lugubrious laments or catalog tones; the whisper of the real ocean is here, melded to the whisper of a nostalgic narrator. While the boundary line is still blurred, the pendulum shifts slightly to the side of humanity. (Richard Allen)