Stephan Meidell: Cascades
Cascades is very much part of that time-honoured tradition whereby a band member temporarily steps away from the group to craft a solo recording composed, performed, and produced entirely by him/herself. In the case of this eight-track debut album (available as a limited edition in 200 copies), the figure in question is Bergen-based Stephan Meidell and the band of which he's a member is Cakewalk (though he also plays with The Sweetest Thrill, Vanilla Riot, and Krachmacher). But unlike many a solo venture that sees the artist secluding him/herself for a concentrated spell and emerging with the completed album in tow, Cascades came together over an extended period of time.
Meidell initiated the project in early 2011 by recording in an old margarine factory and meat storage space on the second floor of Bergen Kjott, a space that was about to be converted into a culture house and used for concerts and thus soon to be outfitted with plates to dampen reverb. As a result, Meidell had to get in early before the workers arrived and so, after placing microphones around the room and devising ways by which to explore the space's acoustic properties, improvised for four days and collected hours of material. After adding to that archive recordings subsequently done in his home studio, at the BAS silo (at the Architect School of Bergen), and in the big freezer hall of Bontelabo, Meidell worked on the music for two-and-a-half years, resulting in a multi-layered album that's as much about the musical sounds featured on it as the spaces within which the sounds originated.
While the eight tracks separate themselves comfortably onto the vinyl sides, the tracks themselves are dramatically different in certain respects. Of the four tracks on side one, for example, two, “Simulate” and “Solace,” are each less than a minute in length, whereas the others are long-form by comparison. The material, which Meidell generated from guitars, voice, bass, and drum machine, is experimental and explorative in nature. There's structure certainly but also an open-endedness that testifies to its creator's willingness to let the ambient qualities of the environments figure into the final result. Noises from the spaces seep into the tracks, and consequently pieces such as “Suspire” and “Stage” exude a brooding, spacey-industrial character, as if faint traces of spirits haunting the reverberant settings have filtered into the recording alongside the fractured guitar textures and pedals-generated effects. The ghost is not so much in the machine as in the setting itself.
The motorik drum patterns and bass pulses that chug through “Sedate,” the album's longest piece at nine minutes, give it a somewhat krautrock-like quality, but that kind of treatment is more the exception than the rule. Though the drum machine also figures into the design of “Stage,” Meidell typically eschews beat patterns in favour of a slow-moving, meditative style that allows for ample breathing room between the notes. “Serene,” for example, is representative of the album in the way it spreads guitar strums across a broad, six-minute terrain otherwise speckled with textural treatments. While it's understandably not as dynamic as Cakewalk's late-2013 release Transfixed, Cascades nevertheless provides a satisfying document of Meidell as a solo artist and showcases its creator's fine-tuned appetite for sound texture and design.