Ben Chatwin ~ Staccato Signals

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the new Talvihorros.  With his third album under his own name, Ben Chatwin has finally pushed his sound so far that he’s established a new identity.  Staccato Signals sounds like three cars crashing, each from a different genre.  But instead of breaking into pieces, they form a new whole.

The title refers to “short, sharp flashes of inspiration,” felt as Chatwin surrendered compositional control first to machines and then to other musicians, especially the strings of the Pumpkinseeds.  Three tracks also contain cornet and tenor horn.  Where once Chatwin was drone, now he’s pure drama.  This isn’t light listening, but large listening.  After a brief yet thrilling overture (“Divers in the Water”), he’s all in, “Silver Pit” an ever-expanding chasm of sound.  The tension continues until the end.

A secondary influence is that of “oil, fire and burning,” thanks to Chatwin’s proximity to the North Sea, as well as his town’s heritage of witch trials.  In a way, it’s evidence of a cycle, as his first release, now a decade old, was It’s Already On Fire.  The music certainly seems like it’s on fire ~ specifically, an ocean ablaze with oil.  This is the soundtrack of something wrong.  With so much enmity in the world, it’s easy to hear this as music of conflict.  The difference in the aural conflict is that the sides are not competing to see who will win, but how they will co-exist.  There’s room for the bells, as well as the blasts.  In the Carpenter-esque “Knots,” bass tiptoes backwards to cede passage to strings.  Everything could blow at any moment.  All could be lost with a single slip-up; and yet this event never occurs.  Only one track later, sweetness and distortion share a seat in “Substrates,” perhaps exchanging stories about their day.  Is this the way forward: the fire not evaporating the water, the water not extinguishing the fire?

Those who have followed Chatwin’s personal history know that he is a man of internal combustion, with forces at war in the chambers of his heart.  Staccato Signals is evidence of demons tamed, but it also demonstrates great maturity.  It’s hard for a solo artist to invite others in (organic or inorganic), but it’s also less lonely.  By ceding intellectual control, the composer seems to have seized emotional control.  This is the most confident-sounding music he’s ever produced, climaxing in the triumphant closing notes of “Bow Shock.”  As the coda closes the music down, Chatwin retreats to his “Black Castle,” but this time he turns on the lights instead of using only the candles.  (Richard Allen)

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