The pandemic has given us a break from many things; some welcome, others less so. For a while at least, we lost the pollution and noise of traffic and started to hear an increase in the chatter of birds. We couldn’t go to gigs anymore, but that in theory gave us more time to go for walks and try that hobby we’ve been putting off for years. Everybody will have something different that they missed and surprisingly one of the things that I missed was volume – those moments of physically experiencing music which isn’t just tied to gigs but is probably where we enjoy it most. Unless you have a PA at home, it is a difficult feeling to replicate. Headphones can’t have the same effect; computer speakers definitely don’t. A decent hi-fi set-up will get you some of the way but if you blast out music too loudly you quickly discover how many neighbours either work from home or are on the night shift.
Having to turn the volume down has impacted the appreciation of some music more than others. Classical and modern composition works have probably benefitted most (hush…. concentrate!) but rock has suffered without that extra oomph that cranking up the volume has provided. It is into this environment that GROWING have released Diptych – an album that the publicity calls ‘possibly the definitive headphone album of the year’. To offer a counterpoint, this isn’t an album that I fully appreciated until I cranked up the volume (the neighbours were out) and could physically move around in the sound. That’s not to say it doesn’t work on headphones but to these ears, this is an LP that needs to move the air around and fill a room.
The two side-long pieces are slow burners, that is for certain. These are compositions that take their time, gradually shifting and evolving across the durations rather than bursting into life on a beat. Both are built on drones which – naturally – grow, layer upon layer, some elements fading away back into silence, others busily pulsing across the stereo spectrum. At some point on “Variable Speeds”, a bowed guitar moves into the foreground, allowing the other instruments to coalesce into a bolder, more focussed throb. It’s such a slow progression as to be barely noticeable until the juddering undercurrent forces its way to the foreground. On the calmer “Down + Distance”, there is comparatively little change, until the clang of distant bells draws the drone to some kind of resolution.
This is music that seems crafted to cause the listener to lose focus, maybe space out for five or ten minutes and then realise that the sounds are still there. It almost provides healing: time to switch off, to rebuild, re-energise. It is easier to give in to the sound rather than try to analyse its method. It’s blissed-out drone of a transcendental nature; drift away to it under headphones, or let the weight of sound hit you through loudspeakers. Listen, and forget the world. Although living in different cities, the duo of Joe Denardo and Kevin Doria sound ever more as one on Diptych; their work individually is interesting but as GROWING, even after 20 years, it seems to be increasingly vital. (Jeremy Bye)