February 14th, as every fan of Community knows, is the day we celebrate the birth of St Valentine. It is also the chance for the grumpier and more cynical among us to point out that Valentine’s Day ritualizes an uncomfortably transactional connection between affection and candy. Yes, the day is commercial, but it is an opportunity to express our love and appreciation for a special someone in our lives. That might mean a last-minute dash to buy a bottle of prosecco and a tatty bunch of flowers, or it might mean supporting your favourite restaurant – they will have struggled the past two years, so send some business their way.
This romantic of days also sees the debut release of the Crush String Collective. You might for a moment think that the soft pinkish hues of the cover, combined with the artists’ name bordered by roses and release date, will make for a perfect under-the-wire Valentine’s Day gift. But wait! For this is very much an iron fist in a velvet glove scenario. It’s not a lovey-dovey crush after all but a more forceful use of the word, where both tradition and expectations are crushed by the Collective. Aeriform is an album that takes its time to reveal its depths; it’s definitely not music that can be resigned to the background while you cook that romantic dinner for two.
The twelve tracks on Aeriform were born from improvisations and recorded in mid-2020. The Collective seems to be the first time all the musicians have worked together although, given the understanding between players, it is clear they have played in orchestras and ensembles in pairings over the years. Aeriform offered the freedom to create something new, something theirs alone, not reliant on composers but allowing their combined experience to blossom. One note feeds into another, a structure gradually takes shape. At times their instruments (violin, viola, and cello) are used as percussion, or textures, or a scratchy, scraping sound that creates a sense of unease.
The formation of the Collective, and the brevity of many of the pieces, bring to mind the string quartets of Anton Webern. They share a bold approach to tonality and tradition. “Waves” is a suitably swirling, snarling impression of the sea in its awe-inspiring tumult. However, arguably the most alluring tracks here are those where the players stretch out, take time and produce some stunning, sublime music. The longest works, “Isbre” and “Solhjul” sit next to each on the album, the former full of insistent chirrups and scratches that give way to long, graceful bowed notes, which continue into the latter, the players swooping and weaving like birds in flight.
The sequence from the humming drone of “Intermezzo II – Fetus” through the title track to the closing “Choral II – Aurora” ends Aeriform in the best possible way, pushing open the windows and letting the light stream in, a gorgeous, uplifting way to sign off. Crush String Collective demonstrate a near-telepathic understanding between musicians, and the result is a brilliant, confident debut album. The packaging may suggest a light, romantic approach, but this is thoughtful music, weighty and impressive. Maybe they chose the best release date: this could be the start of a beautiful relationship. (Jeremy Bye)