And It Was So
Full disclosure, first of all: prior to And It Was So, Ben Chatwin contributed a stunning two-part work to the textura split disc Monuments and Ruins alongside Damian Valles. But that detail won't stop us from reviewing his new work, which is every bit as satisfying as the material featured on the textura recording. Chatwin's ongoing maturation as a composer and sound designer is clearly evident on the forty-eight-minute And It Was So. Following on in the spirit of Descent Into Delta, his latest is a concept album of sorts that is intended to be, in his own words, a “loose interpretation of the Book of Genesis and the seven days of creation.” That grandiose theme lends an undeniably prog-like quality to the recording, a quality borne also out by the images of the cosmos shown on the package's inner panels. In the spirit of the originating concept, Chatwin set out to record the album in seven days, only to find the project ultimately requiring more than a year to complete.
Chatwin has brought a number of others aboard this time around. The addition of drummer Jordan Chatwin to six of the seven tracks and the presence of violinist Christoph Berg (Field Rotation), violist Anais Lalange, and cellist Oliver Barrett (Petrels) on three makes a huge difference to the album's impact. Texturally, the merging of strings and drums with Chatwin's painterly handling of the guitar makes for a powerful combination, and music of intense dramatic weight and multi-dimensionality is the result.
During “Let There Be Light!,” perhaps the most arresting track, Chatwin harnesses guitar-generated feedback and shapes it into dramatic fields of echoplexed intensity that crash against waves of wailing guitars. Collectively the materials, alternately grainy and rippling, converge to reach an ecstatic crescendo until the first section ends and a slow death march ensues, with drums setting the crawling pace and guitars and strings not far behind. In these eleven minutes, Chatwin gives his Talvihorros sound a whole new dimension, almost as if it's been reborn in a single setting.
A tone of supplication infuses the second piece, “In the Midst of the Waters,” with the Chatwins and Lalange casting emotional expressions into the wind, after which “The Two Great Lights,” like some horror film soundtrack in miniature, presents a slow-burning meditation whose molten, scabrous guitar textures are juxtaposed against a synthesizer sequencer pattern and sci-fi chords. During “Swarms of Living Souls,” the peacefulness of tinkling bells gives way to a seething, full-on guitar swarm of metallic wonder, while the percussive throb in “Creeping Things” is a tad reminiscent of his textura piece; while there're guitar textures galore filling the background, Chatwin also presents some of his most direct and melodic guitar playing during the tune's relaxed flow, with—as inexplicable as it might sound—hints of dub and even funk seeping into the track's arrangement. “Great Sea Monsters,” an organic soundscaping meditation emblazoned with fuzz-toned ripples, synth tones, tremolo guitar shadings, and strings (the one track where all three strings players appear), features the album's most delicate moments in its acoustic guitar-and-strings passages, before “A Mist Went Up” ends the project with a solo Chatwin sculpting a reflective, guitar-based meditation.
There are moments when a comparison to someone like Tim Hecker makes sense, the difference being that Chatwin's sense of compositional form is more fully and satisfyingly developed than Hecker's. In truth, it ultimately makes more sense to treat Talvihorros music on its own terms, rather than try to fabricate connections between Chatwin's sound and someone else's. Put simply, he moves to another level on this recording: while a fabulous guitarist and sound designer, he's also an incredible composer with a signature way of shaping and arranging sounds into stunning instrumental set-pieces.