Valentin Stip – Sigh (2014)


Sigh is one of those records where little information can be gleaned about the content within from its title, project name and artwork. Given that Valentin Stip are something of a new and relatively low-key project there isn’t a vast repository of knowledge online about them, so giving this a spin was something of a leap of faith. But being on Nicholas Jaar’s newly formed label alongside Psychic means that it certainly couldn’t be terrible, and sure enough it isn’t, but it’s every bit as unclassifiable and mysterious as Psychic is.

We open to “Tableau II”; who knows what happened to Tableau I. Beautiful, vast spaces are summoned up in the electronic wiggles and warbles of this piece, crushed and deeply processed snippets of guitar floating in a vast, black synth soundscape with only sparse melodies for company. Despite coming in at almost 4 minutes its sweeping desolation seems to glide by with little impact or impression, its melodies floating by aimlessly and without imposition. It transitions beautifully into the similarly structured “Pendule”, inheriting the same inky blackness and slow, languid electronic patters and taps. A thin drone line slowly allows a certain level of increased instrumentation and leads to a neat little textural climax just beyond the midpoint, a sudden burst of energy in an otherwise tranquil system.

This steady incline towards increased activity and track length begins to take stronger form with the amazing “Aletheia”, a Grecian word for disclosure or truth. The crushing quietness and secrecy of the previous two tracks are being swept away by the slow, careful, yet striking, piano notes that flourish the rolling drone fuzz and bassy synth lines. Those same, easygoing percussive elements still appear with regularity but there’s a certain tribalism to this piece that’s unnerving in the unintelligible murmurings and mysterious, distal chanting that accompanies the music. There’s a certain sensation of catharsis and relief in this rich, almost Minimal House, piece. It cruises effortlessly into “Correlation”, which sounds like it could have come right out of Darkside’s Psychic, which is convenient given that it’s also released on Nicholas Jaar’s label. Those wibbly synth lines still bob in and out of the mix rather jovially but the whole thing is led by those slow, wet, reverbed guitar chords we saw out of Psychic. It’s one of the emptier pieces, despite the plethora of unnameable textures.

Cooing ambiance makes an appearance in the lightweight interlude that “Aveu” turns out to be, resetting our incrementally longer track length clock once more as it sails by, gracefully unloading faint but empowered drums alongside echoic guitars and thin synth lines in quite a climactic closer that seems content to leave behind some of the more energetic and overly optimistic music of late. The enigmatically titled “****” devolves and sends us back to our miserable starting point, filled with cavernous drones in the beginning only to be replaced by delicate and humbling piano in the latter half. It gives a suggestion of something bigger and grander lurking behind at times; that thick guitar reverb intrudes its way into the mix on occasion, but it’s filtered out in this downtrodden, downtempo track. And the creeping piano of “****” makes way for companion toybox clicks and chimes and ringing xylophonic notes in “Regard sur l’Enfance (I et II)”, perhaps the most upbeat and carefree piece of the whole album. Eventually the relentlessly jovial tumult of repetitious xylophone riffs must burn out though; good things cant last forever and it closes on a few stuttering keystrokes of a melancholic piano that falls away in a rush of sad reverb.

So lastly we’re welcomed by the closer, the ten minute title track. It’s hard to know what to expect from it given all we’ve heard so far, but what emerges is unsurprising. Following the somewhat cresting opening minutes with their heavy drone we pick up a sad piano solo, slightly fuzzed out by a lo-fi hum, a final outro before the depressing reality hits once more and we slowly begin the downward spiral back into the dark drone fugue. with cold and thin piano strokes littering our descent. But the return journey to the bottom is a long one, we’ve come so far after all, and our final fugue is enormously protracted, slowly winding down the minute instrumentation and smearing into the background darkness over minutes.

Despite all my references to drones and pianos, there’s quite an electronic facet to this album that’s surprising at first glance. The reality is it’s nigh on impossible to appropriate Sigh to a specific genre, even a set of genres, but it’s not too much of a stretch to say it lies on the Ambient/Electronic threshold, as broad a brush as that is. The general tone of this album is uncertainty; it wants to break out of the conventional cul-de-sacs of melancholic drone and miserable piano but it doesnt quite have the impetus to sustain those bolder, more experimental and generally happier avenues. And in some ways, it seems almost content to settle back into its lonely, depressing ways in the end. It’s a good album, a little hazy sometimes but detailed and clever. I like it a lot.