Andrew Hargreaves, one half of The Boats, largely sails solo on Defragment where his melodious piano playing and electronic programming are augmented in a small number of cases by the contrasting presence of Danny Norbury's cello. A sense of dub-like spaciousness permeates the mix, and there occurs an occasional dubby bass line too. But lest anyone get the wrong impression, Defragment is most assuredly not a dub album but rather a forty-minute collection of hazy piano-based settings awash in electronic textures. Hargreaves' minimalist piano playing typically courses through dense webs of glitch-ridden patterns that often cohere into rhythm patterns that gently ease the piano playing along. What results are lyrical vignettes that leave a memorable imprint despite their brevity and muted character.
The restrained opener, “Between the Left and Right Hand,” sets the album's understated tone by backing delicate piano playing with a speckled backdrop of muffled conversation and rhythms generated by static noise. Though electronic textures usually act as support for the piano's lead voice, there are moments, such as during “Mystical and Secret Sayings,” when the prickly smears challenge the piano for dominance. Given how dust-covered the piano playing is in “Handwritten Notes,” the track could pass for a piece by Library Tapes, even if the track exudes a lightheartedness in its dancing patterns that isn't generally characteristic of the Library Tapes sound. When the bass tones move to the forefront of the piano-and-electronics front-line in “With Some Liberties,” one might find oneself reminded of the recordings Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto collaborated on. The three tracks featuring cellist Danny Norbury stand out for the added emotional weight and warmth his singing tone brings to them. The cello's plaintive cry elevates “Just Us Together,” his subtle dabs of colour illuminate “Confusion in Consequence,” and, following a Satie-esque intro, his cello sounds adds to the lulling reverie of haze and sparkle that swells during “Variation is Repetition.” Recorded in Barcelona, Burnley, Manchester, Salford, Toyama and Tokyo, Hargreaves' album should certainly satisfy listeners who've been charmed by The Boats' recordings.