Robert Fripp: At the End of Time: Churchscapes, Live in England & Estonia, 2006
Discipline Global Mobile

In 1974, when Robert Fripp decided to retire King Crimson (not the last time he'd do so), the guitarist famously declared that, thenceforth, he would operate as a “small, intelligent mobile unit” instead of band ringleader. Though Crimson has periodically re-emerged in the years since, his solo endeavors have carried on without interruption since the pioneering Frippertronics work of the ‘70s and his collaborations with Brian Eno, No Pussyfooting and Evening Star. Fripp's latest solo release, At the End of Time, was recorded in churches in England and Estonia during 2006, so the music's intensely devotional character doesn't come as a total surprise. Throughout the seventy-four-minute collection, multiple guitar lines fold into one another, generating spacious masses of pealing counterpoint, and producing a drifting effect that grows especially hypnotic during the album's quieter moments.

The Fripp guitar sound has changed considerably since the first days of Frippertronics. Originally harder-edged, its tone is sometimes so pure and crystalline, it suggests a synthesizer more than guitar. His signature style still surfaces (the lead passages near the beginning of “Evensong: Tallinn,” for instance), though now dressed in slightly different garb. Often, the choir-like mass that's generated is stirring in its rhapsodic beauty (“At the End of Time: Broad Chalke”), and the pairing of a swelling background mass and scalpel-sharp lead produces broad contrast. The tracks themselves are largely woven without interruption into celestial, slowly-evolving meditations whose keening clusters swoop heavenward, anchored by gently see-sawing, cello-like tones. “Threshold Bells: St. Paul's” immediately establishes the album's character with a gleaming, incandescent sound that's like light illuminating a church's stained glass window. The crepuscular “Evensong Coda: Viljandi” threatens to vanish altogether when it recedes to a whisper over its ten-minute duration, and the lustrous bell-like placidity of “Evensong Coda: Haapsalu” closes the collection as gracefully as it begins.

At the End of Time isn't the first album of its kind Fripp has released—many such works have appeared over the years (two sets from the ‘90s, A Blessing Of Tears, soundscapes in memory of his mother, and The Gates of Paradise, both deserve mention)—but this one impresses as a particularly beautiful one of its kind.

November 2007