Thomas William Hill won our hearts with his 2017 release Asylum for Eve. His new album extends the romance. By continuing to incorporate non-standard instruments (such as kalimba, Tibetan singing bowl, and metallophone), the artist deepens the route he established with Origamibiro, unleashing music that seems simultaneously familiar and otherworldly, local and international, no matter where one lives.
While the album is intensely melodic, the melodies rise from layers of percussion and resist all prediction. The explanation lies in the composition. These tracks began as viola de gamba loops, which Hill played back until patterns began to establish themselves in the grains of space. Like a painter, he decided which spaces to leave empty, which to leave in and which to brush over. The result: an album of color and tone, in which repetition is a strange animal, seemingly with its own mind. Intention and happenstance are blurred like the line between fate and free will.
Have we mentioned that the album is beautiful? Hill’s dual strengths lie in texture and rhythm. As with Asylum for Eve, one may sit back and enjoy the beauty, or allow the percussion to propel the body. On “Carriages,” synthesized handclaps dance with friendly drones; a Baroque feel is already evident. On “Refract,” a bank of strings swirls like a sunspot. “Willow” has a deep sense of pathos, implying the weeping while celebrating the tree. “Whorl” lifts the listener from contemplation to celebration.
Grains of Space combines the maturity of composition with the playfulness of found sound. A trumpet plays loosely over a tight piano; a drone moves over to share a seat with a drum. All of the instruments get along. It’s as if Hill listened intently to the music of the spheres, then decided to add harmony. The painted cover is a perfect metaphor: stare long enough and one will start to see patterns, like shapes in clouds. But the tone is more important than the paint, just as the tone of this album is more important than the notes. One comes away from the experience as one exits a meaningful dream: desperate to re-enter while the memory is still fresh, even as the details are already slipping away. (Richard Allen)