Last Days ~ Fragments

If you’ve ever made a mixtape or playlist, you’ve likely encountered the same problems as Graham Richardson (Last Days).  Sometimes there are too many tracks to shove into a small space.  Sometimes a track you love doesn’t match the timbre of the others, or interrupts the flow.  Sometimes you can’t decide between two versions of a track, so you include only one.  Accumulate enough stray pieces, and patterns begin to emerge.  Some of these tracks blend well together.  All of a sudden you realize you’ve got enough for another mixtape!  Perhaps you’ll call your tape Odds and Ends.  Richardson calls his album Fragments. But if one didn’t know these were fragments, scattered across time, one would welcome it as a new Last Days album, lacking a common theme but operating as a unified whole.

The warmth is apparent from the opening strings.  Richardson has always operated on the liminal border between ambience and modern composition, yet his timbres have consistently exuded comfort. To this day, his finest achievement has been The Safety of the North, and “Middletown” sounds as if it might have come from those sessions: the same melancholy, the same hope.  The drop to the sparse piano of “Reverberation” is also familiar; it’s amazing how we still think of that little girl, counting her blessings in her new surroundings.  By “Redshift,” the emotional drenching has begun; but a slight hint of post-rock reminds us that Richardson won’t allow us to stay down for long.

So we have to pause at this point to express our astonishment:  these are outtakes?  On the one hand, we thank Graham for bringing them into the light; on the other, he’s going to make a lot of other artists jealous.  According to multiple sources, Prince left enough music for a hundred posthumous albums; but there’s no telling if these songs are any good, and there’s certainly not a hundred Purple Rains in there.  Fragments, on the other hand, is an album of which Richardson can be proud; the quality is as high as that of his regular releases.

One of the key reasons for this success is smart sequencing.  Richardson has multiple timbres at his disposal, and is wise to spread them out: this way certain elements seem like returning themes rather than repetitions.  “Reverberation” and “Postscript” both start with piano before adding strings, but are separated by half an album.  One of the most ambient pieces, the twinkling “Traveling Light,” is found in the center, while its counterpart, “Open Water,” is found at the end; the only percussion is found on the closing “Cove,” making it a fitting finale.

A new Last Days album is already in the works, but Fragments is more than enough to tide us over as we wait for it to appear.  (Richard Allen)

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