Richard Skelton is a man of many guises. This April he returns as The Inward Circles, continuing to invoke history, nature and the mysteries of the human mind. This is his fourth release and third album under this name, and arrives with a bonus: an additional album that was made available for early adopters.
For those who know Skelton only under a single guise, the album may come as a surprise. Skelton has always flourished in the drone genre, although the majority of his releases are more placid than this. And Right Lines Limit and Close All Bodies is thick and foreboding, as it recalls an unearthed body preserved in peat moss: the “Cumbrian bog man,” found in the skin of a deer. The music of The Inward Circles imitates the wrapping with its own corrugation and decay: stringed notes and found objects are subjected to intense processing akin to that of time upon matter. Field recordings are here, but buried, and even if excavated may have been mulched beyond recognition.
Skelton writes of “a desire to obliterate, to destroy, and to discover anew.” His fascination with land is extended here to what is beneath the land, the fauna that has become feed. To know this is to shudder, but also to challenge one’s perceptions of comfort and discomfort. It’s one thing to be able to recognize the presence of stringed instruments and to follow their sonic trajectories; it’s another to embrace their dissection and reassembly. But this has always been Skelton’s way. In his previous incarnations, he’s dredged up ancient words and reconfigured them as poetry, opening new doors of perception through new angles of approach. Now land and body are indistinguishable one from the other.
Layering has always been important in Skelton’s music, and this affinity is apparent here. Each track includes baseline drones as well as mutable foregrounds. Whenever the volume rises, one wonders how high it will go. This practice is in contrast to the loud mixing for volume’s sake in much of today’s popular music. The intent here is not to produce excitement, but tension; not a visceral reaction, but a cerebral one. Whenever the levels rise into the red, one thinks of recovered words, bodies and sites, bursting the boundaries of the ordinary and expected, no longer ignored.
Not until the fifth track (“Nitre of the Earth”) does a certain sadness begin to creep in as well: an aura of inevitability, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Everything will crumble. Looped ambient phrases attempt to comfort while the outside world threatens to abrade. Midway through “Necks was a proper figure” (the title from Thomas Browne), a repeated bass note is added to the swirling volume to produce a dramatic peak. From this point on, The Inward Circles relents, just slightly, finally arriving at a peaceful conclusion on “Scaleby, xi” ~ which when coupled with the earlier “x” prompts us to ask, “Where are the other nine?” They can be found in the digital bonus album, a shorter set that offers a gentler take on the subject matter. At times, Scaleby‘s music is even contemplative, as if the fear and foreboding have themselves been abraded, subjected to the whims of decay, edges softened like ancient stone.
“vii” and “viii” return to an attitude of assertiveness, showcasing a small array of tempos, pulses and beats. But the final word belongs to “Scaleby ix” ~ eleven flowing minutes that wash over bodies and mysteries like time before sinking into the morass. What endures? The question has haunted Skelton throughout his life. These albums are the aural reflection of an inner search. (Richard Allen)