Rafael Anton Irisarri – A Fragile Geography (Room40, 2015)

It’s difficult to imagine what life would be like if right at this moment most of our possessions and the tools of our livelihood all suddenly disappeared; unfortunately this is exactly what happened to Irisarri when his removals van was stolen during a house move. The literal loss and the barrage of subsequent emotions is a difficult thing to comprehend: how could most of us really know what such a thing is like? A Fragile Geography is a tremendously powerful record that comes from a place of undesirable knowledge and helps us to touch the tip of the iceberg of the gamut of feelings Irisarri boiled through during this process.

It’s clear this is the thematic angle the album wants to pursue right from the disjointed opener “Displacement”, losing itself in a hazy and hollow beginning feeling helpless and lost, barely there drones hovering in a lo-fi breeze of deep emptiness. It feels shapeless and without form, its little meandering synth lines drifting senseless and without purpose in this jarring new reality they find themselves stuck within. The lilting shock wears off slowly to be replaced by the raging “Reprisal”, its segueing emptiness replaced by vitriol and thrumming rage in a growing rush of emotional and textural tumult that seeks to plug the gaps and rally against the injustice dealt. The thick waves of raw and processed noise feel like an endless stream of cathartic fury but they do have a conclusion, washing away into thin echoes of themselves as they seem to reverberate into helpless nothings.

Nothing seems to encapsulate the complex emotions of “Empire Systems” though; touted as the album centerpiece with its assistant constructions by none other than Lawrence English it rises with a similar crescendo to its predecessor but on glowing and heady, impassioned synth drones that gain traction notch by notch, swirling in battered and exhausting currents by life’s prevailing disappointments and hinting at glimmering shards of anger cruising below a barely restrained surface. It just sweeps everything along in a complicated mass of sonic expressions; it actually shares a lot of the Dark Ambient sort of sound as EUS and Saaad which is great. After a brief but necessary pause in the jagged impatience of “Hiatus”, “Persistence” comes along to drive things forwards and make some headway, either fighting against a slow and useless bureaucratic system or empowering itself to rebuild our existence up around us, plodding along in nicely methodical pursuits and smokey looped sequences that really engender a sense of purpose; repetitious and softly insistent but firm, narrowing its vision on the pieces to repair.

That only leaves the finalé of “Secretly Wishing For Rain”, a beautiful piece bleary in its vision, melted piano strokes cutting through a warbled atmosphere that feels bent and out of shape, miserably dry and exhausted at the ordeal that it caps. It’s the first moment of eminently detectable melancholy, the first moment of quiet that affords us a chance to let the magnitude of the sadness settle in, and it is rather crushing. There’s something, towards the end though, perhaps a little glimmer of light on the horizon as a faint stringed instrument casts out its final notes that seeds a possibility of hope for the future, but it’s a fragile and far away place for now.