Saåad – Orbs & Channels (2013)


So late last year I wrote quite a substantial piece on their sophomore release Confluences, a Field Recordings dominated album focused on the rivers Ariège and Garonne. It was a game changer in terms of my 2012 list and rocketed to pretty damn close near the top, pushing aside albums that had sat in the top20 for months; since then I’ve been exploring some of their older works in their growing discography and I knew that this upcoming album would definitely be one to watch, and I was right.

This 40 minute release opens to the rising Drone crescendo of “Hieronimus”, an everlasting and almost impossibly long note that hangs heavily in the air, all consuming in its vision and accompanied by a plethora of other barely discernible sounds as it smothers the foreground. As we reach its conclusion the fog starts to lift and the previously unrecognisable bells begin to toll and chime. “Au-Delá” (“beyond”) moves in swiftly with an almost Hecker like tonality as dark, shimmering and unidentifiable electronica shakes and oscillates in the fore, a confusing and disorienting sound that intensifies as the huge organ drone moves in once more. The music is living up to the album art thus far; obscured soundscapes stretch out endlessly but are buried in the choking darkness of the heavy, oppressive drone.

Things begin to change as “Savará” enters the scene, with that grating, oscillating electronic noise scratching and whirling in the nearfield; something has changed that has altered our perception of our surroundings, which are now bright and disorientating, lights spinning and blurring in front of our eyes. The cryptically titled “Potsdamer Platz” forces us to a geographical locality and begins to shift the focus of this album once again, from metaphysical and philosophical musings in the previous tracks to something altogether different. Potsdamer Platz was a site of intense bombing during WWII, totally destroyed in fact, and was once split by the Berlin Wall. It has a sad and violent history, and this track’s sombre tone reflects those memories. “Lure of Conquests” seems to channel this same line of thought again later in the album with vast guitar drones idling menacingly; you could interpret it either as either the mean powers of greed and corruption or the anger of those politically/morally against such actions. There’s a great deal of underlying socio-political tension in this release I feel.

“Forever Late” pulsates into view, riding on waves of thickly processed electric guitar with an inherent melancholy and generally depressive feel. Distal moans and cries echo in the distance and like “Au-Delá” we begin to think once again on the significance of a name when it comes to the meaning of a track’s contents. Forever late as in dead? The morose and introspective feel of this track certainly points more towards the sense of loss than anything else, and the album begins to feel like it’s tying together as we connect the dots. “Hangover #8” couples with it; more reminiscent of their Delayed Summer days and one of my favourite tracks of the album, the guitar shimmers and whines before switching to a heavier sounds that throbs dully as it pulses through your head. Echoes of regret hang in the air as those distant vocals come through once more; they are so distal that they add almost nothing and yet their presence in the textural landscape is everything. Minutiae like that are what make me love Saaad; their tracks are so often these vast, drone laden affairs and yet they are all intricately detailed and texturally rich, every one requires a close and precise listen to appreciate in their entirety.

It’s almost hard to imagine the gravity and intensity of the album that precedes the closer “Soft Drug”. It is an exquisitely crafted piece, one filled with an unnameable number of unnameable sounds; pulses of noise rise through the chaos as that heavily processed guitar wobbles and shimmers in the background, coated in an ethereal layer of reverb it spins out quietly alongside a suite of indescribable electronic noises and sounds. It’s a (relatively) soft and introverted leadout to what is a comparatively intense and heavy album, but it absolutely doesnt let up on the emotional gravity this album maintains throughout its duration; if anything the more quiet and gentle approach it takes is even more spine-chilling.

Orbs & Channels is once again another excellent addition to what is already an excellent discography. I’m coming to learn that there is always something to explore, always something to feel, within a Saåad release; it’s normally not obvious until we get round to a close inspection but the realisation that there are political or historical or philosophical undercurrents to their work makes the listening just that little bit more interesting and enjoyable upon reflection. Even without those underlying concepts I feel the drone itself is highly evocative and, while perhaps not the most accessible of the genre, it is done extremely precisely and sensitively, such that it should be an emotional journey for even the least educated genre-goer.