Kate Carr – Fabulations (Soft Recordings, 2014)


It’s challenging introducing a record like Fabulations, especially since my experience with Field Recordings as a genre is relatively limited, not to mention that I don’t have an overt fondness for this album, even if I do have a certain admiration for its exploratory vibe and emotional exploration through time and space. Fabulations charts Carr’s migration around the world, sampling soundscapes from Ireland, Scotland, Spain, France and elsewhere, mingling these thoughtful introspections with delicate guitar work and thin drones to generate snapshots of her impressions of these places across time.

Much of the album rests in a state of uneasy melancholy that seems to be obsessed with the expanse of time and the flux experienced across it, breaking it down into more manageable moments as it passes; tracks like “I Remembered It All Somewhere Near Glasgow” and “I Felt Better About Everything In Dunquin” pin down emotional states to geographic locations and express the longing one has to return to these places to feel how we once felt again. Both of these pieces are barren and lonely constructions; “Near Glasgow” is the richer of the two as it fills a mournful guitarscape with indeterminate and scratchy nothings before collapsing into an almost irrepressible fugue of dense guitar and glitch fuzz, whilst “I Felt Better” is a more wistful and longing enterprise. Built from the plumbed darkness of memory it briefly ekes itself out of the void only to be filled with the familiar sounds Kate must have felt in Dunquin; processed oscillations of something spin in the dark, accompanied by the comforting memories of some mysterious creakings and rattlings.

“Cold Trains”, the opening piece, is another that thinks about this notion of travel and time and emotion, seeing the transportative power of the train to take us away from these bleak and depressive old places to those that are new and fresh and full of promise; it chugs along at a glacial pace, stuffed full of the miscellaneous fragments of some since-lost train station, as coughs and footsteps and announcements come and go, trains whirr and whine and drones turn patiently all before ours arrives, the rails shimmering and creaking, ready to usher us away with all speed. But it is less the musings of place and more the places themselves that hold the most power within Fabulations, with a number of tracks dedicated to seemingly important localities; the homely trappings of brief “Broken Sheep Fences, Gale” record the realities and hardships of life in the remote countryside in all its bluster, whilst “Sound Art In Barcelona” is an entirely different planet, one populated by warming guitar drones, simpering smatterings of applause and the diffuse haze of a million moving bodies and their actions: hearing the dull roar of murmured conversations, passing traffic and the screech of the persistent car alarm all define this human landscape.

Quiet contemplation is clearly Kate’s preferred climate, however, as we explore the walls of history and their fading presence in pieces like “Under An Ancient Fort”, which soothes us as the waves lap upon the shingle alongside the distal guitar and gentle breeze as we watch nature reclaim these human constructs. This reverence for history is even more profound in the gorgeous “In Corridors A Thousands Years Old” as we hear the distant tolling of church bells and the hushed tones of some aged hymn float through the old stone, a timeless affirmation of faith through the ages but which is fast becoming lost in this modern age.

Unlike many Ambient records I don’t think this is something one can just “put on” for background listening; it’s an album that deeply rewards the listener for close and dedicated listening but has a tendency to leave me a little jilted and underwhelmed if I don’t, especially through the mid-album. I am sure many will disagree with me; Fabulations has earned a good deal of praise in various reviews already, but I’d enjoy it slightly more if its supplementary melodies had a bit more life in them. Otherwise, an admirable and texturally interesting effort.