Ed Hamilton – Arabesque (Futuresequence, 2015)


It seems like lately more artists are finding themselves attached to the idea of perpetuation and elongation of preexisting pieces; Nicholas Szczepanik took Elgar’s “Nimrod” last year in his LP Not Knowing and already this year Danny Clay attempted to prolong the opening sequences of Schubert’s “Ganymed”, but in the same way that both of those albums had pretty different interpretations and uses of the source material, it doesn’t really feel like Ed’s paying homage to Claude Debussy’s “Arabeseque #1” as he reworks the very specific first four chords of the piece, it feels more like a particular challenge that has been set for himself. Honestly, given the processing and multitude of textures present it rarely feels like the album’s been influenced at all, even if we know that it has been, but that doesn’t stop this from being a wonderfully tender and precise record that adheres to its own interior concept.

There’s a quaint delicacy and fragility that runs through the album right from the get go in opener “Rhaeadrau for RM”, slowly inching forwards in tentative notes that sound almost as though they’re being eked from a music box, their gentle chimes hovering in the cold air before slow drone lines begin to ebb out of the dark as we switch focus, the suspended droplets thrown up from the waterfall of the title rejoining the stable current of the secure and familiar stream below.

And that theme of water is also a recurring trend throughout; “Blue Lagoon” seamlessly arrives on a shimmering wave of blurred electronica, the music box fading out to be replaced by rather more melancholic piano tinklings in this almost reverential piece, everything becoming suddenly subdued and overawed at the place before its eyes. “Waterlog” is another one that seems to invoke a sense of place and continue this attachment to water, creating some feeling of a pleasant afternoon on a riverbank, the sounds coming through on organic stringed drones and lazy piano turnings, feeling replete and at peace in the warm light and cool breeze.

The other pieces are a little different though fundamentally still utilising the same ensconced drones and clever faux acoustic instrumentation of the previously mentioned tracks. “Cirrostratus” turns out to be rather janglier and more rhythmic than the opening works that precede it and makes for a welcome change; it unwinds a repetitive and subtly evolving crystalline mush of smeared drones and crisper synth motions to propel things, these frozen masses of ice drifting impossibly overhead slowly and almost imperceptibly evolving as they go. It’s a little at odds to the following title track “Arabesque #1” I suppose;  it’s probably the biggest outlier in sound besides the harsh unpleasantries of the abrasive “Rake, Migrate”, but “Arabesque #1” is the sparsest and perhaps the most respectful piece present. Not seeking to perpetuate and prolong its namesake exactly but hold it at arms length and respect it, employing little reversed snippets and ethereal synth motions to achieve its cautious but admiring distance.It lulls in the sound, resting in the drone troughs it creates and almost fears to impinge on the senses.

The closest comparator is the stunning 9 minute closing track “A Year In A Day”; awash in disconnected and ethereal drone movements it manages to draw together much of the sonic devices we’ve experienced across the album’s span into a brilliantly conclusive and tender package. Glimmers of the music box peek through, soft piano emerges tentatively, synth meanderings spin motions of progressive material and the drones mesh beautifully with the simply gorgeous female vocal lines that drift romantically through the heart of the piece. It encapsulates the future nostalgia of these moments brilliantly without really being sentimental and sappy about it, I adore it.

Arabesque just feels so deliciously cohesive it’s difficult to fault; Ed’s adherence to this concept results in a record that feels complete and wholesome, his self-produced filters and software patches showing no hint of weakness and helping to make the piece ultimately feel like a deeply organic experience and not as clinical and meticulous as its production process almost certainly was. It just manages to strike a perfect balance of pleasantry and activity for me and as such I can’t recommend it enough, a really engaging and beautiful production.