Jasmine Guffond – Yellow Bell (Sonic Pieces, 2015)


Whilst Yellow Bell is the first album Jasmine Guffond has produced under her own name, it’s certainly not her first endeavour in the music world; already established as an experimental electronic musician and sound artist in her own right, this experience is clear to see in the exacting sounds and beautiful mastering on this record. Imbibing sensibilities from artists like Julianna Barwick, Liz Harris’s Grouper project and even encapsulating a snippet of Basinski, this is a record that drifts deliciously from one sequence of elusive music to another, each piece carving out its own mysterious niche to supplement the whole. Yellow Bell is something of a challenging album to consider as an entity but it remains a cohesive and brilliant whole for its entire duration.

The title track opens proceedings on harmonious stretches of initially terse synth drone to introduce us to the album’s soundscape, one that melts the original acoustic instrumentation and vocal work into the folds of its synth roots. It’s a fundamentally foundational piece, one that takes time to establish itself firmly (although all the tracks here seem to do the same) as it embeds a rich and viscous drone backdrop against the distant chatter of a milling crowd and circling fragments of synth. “Elephant” follows it shortly and sharply, eschewing the luscious drone passages that closed the opener in favour of stuttering and flickering glitch lines, an abruptly rising tide of anxiety that gains traction as haunting vocal coos drift through their static:

“There’s an elephant in the room”

Guffond sings at the height of the track once the digital chaos has been flushed and the atmosphere has calmed slightly, even if we’re still unable to shake this sense of unspoken awkwardness inherently present. As the only really sung passage of the album it’s got a definite Grouper-esque feeling to it, lo-fi and enigmatic in its presentation, the mystery going unresolved and allowing the creeping and eerie electronic mess to edge back in. Something foundational and pure returns in “Core Notions” which begins in deeply minimal and sparse tracts of raw, fragile drone. It doesn’t last long however, as it rises on warped stretches of sound that pulse like a beating heart and give the track a density and necessary propulsion as it turns over, like an embryo developing and testing its most critical function for the first time. But there’s something rather mechanical and dry about its presentation that seems so matter of fact, a coolness that overlooks the beauty of its design and sees only the necessity.

Some warmth is to be found in its harshness though; “Useful Knowledge” is bright and carefree in its synth wheelings and Julianna Barwick reminiscent vocal additions, little coos and cries drifting through the mix to provide it with a more personable and relatable sensibility, but more than that its motions feel progressive and purposeful for the first time, a discovery that makes us feel childlike and bubbly. In that sense I suppose its follow up “Lisa’s Opening” can be a bit jarring with its Melancholia sample but again there’s a sensation of realisation and perhaps self-actualisation that drives the piece in the delicate guitar pickings and smeared reverb of the intimate vocal lines that follow. Everything’s hidden under a veil, nothing’s made explicit and closer “RR Variation” highlights this blurriness; is its spinning croonings and oscillating electronica a whirlwind exorcism of these self-doubts and melancholic thoughts or is it the dizzying realisation that they still persist and cannot be shaken free, swirling chaotically and failing to clear? Who can truly say.

Yellow Bell seems to invoke pretty different feelings in the reviews I’ve seen, and my own thoughts also don’t seem to clearly align with those I’ve read either. To me this record hints at a story of introspection and at least seems to tell a story of this exploration of feeling across its span but one could easily see this as a more philosophical musing as the title suggests; perhaps Guffond is trying to find some key to the fundamentals of music and we’re being treated to some of those insights and experiments? It’s up to you to decide and I would deeply recommend that you give it the close and thoughtful listen that it clearly deserves.