Albums of the Decade: Ian William Craig – A Turn of Breath (Recital, 2014)


While you would think that my #1 for the most recent year passed would not have changed in the interim, it’s clear to me now that I made a significant error at the time. Make no mistake, Dunn’s Infinite Sadness is a gem of a record but for me no other record has had as much playtime or given me such an emotional response on every listen as A Turn of Breath, and I don’t mind being a hypocrite here.

I’ve read a lot of material regarding this record, it was afterall something of a curveball for many reviewers last year (myself included), but none of them really seem to convey the raw emotional elegance of this album, the way its musical and vocal simplicity coupled with a mysterious and obscured haze of lo-fi processings evoke such elegiac qualities that so directly evade capture. Nothing about it feels concrete or certain within itself or others, lost in its own existential turnings and feeling like we’re just being allowed a peek into the surface layer of these partially realised abstractions. The pureness of Craig’s voice is such a powerful radiator though, an intimate connector that seeks to bridge the gulf; “On The Reach of Explanations” is the perfect example of this, his operatic sounds calling angelically from this really earnest place but their message lost in heady distortions and rich Ledesma drone warblings. It’s so romantically engaging, it works so hard yet never makes the jump to completion, and it’s perfect as a result.

Other largely obliterated pieces such as “Second Lens” find their feet in muffled and shuffling electronic miscellany, these little Barwick-esque coos floating out of the indecisive and lost, enigmatic fragments that envelope them, whilst “The Edges”, reworked from a longer original piece on preceding record A Forgetting Place, seem to have more impetus and strive for reason, his voice on the edge of intelligibility whilst ensconced in thick layers of damaged noise and swirling guitar drones that rise up in anxious and softly insistent waves that press and churn in their search for answer.

“I have seen the edges of your content”

It’s gritty but never dark; one word that stands out from my original notes is “naive” and much of this record is, particularly this piece. Everything feels fresh and young and impressionable, searching for the reasons behind its hurts and cravings; the unbelievable split couplet of “A Slight Grip, A Gentle Hold” speaks on that fragile and innocent level in its beautifully sweet lyrics. Lost and unclear at first, they drip out of Part 1’s grieving oscillations like a mourning teen pining for his sweetheart before they stamp down and blast out with a fierce clarity and vast stringed crescendo in the shiveringly powerful Part 2:

“I allow my heaviness a gentle hold,

I allow my heaviness a slight grip”

he sings in these passionate and honest movements, migrating from downtrodden musings to a more mature and empowered future that’s more confident in itself, that wont let these miserable life moments affect us, to recognise that these are the things that make us human. It’s a truly stunning evolution and Part 2 is probably one of my favourite single tracks of all time, truly. Mind you, as mature as it becomes it still needs its space as closer “A Forgetting Place” alludes to, letting us know that there are times where we need to get away from this hustle and bustle and pause to care for our mental health, a quiet and minimal place where we can escape and forget.

Distinct moments of “her” or “us” drift through in suggestive passages, like the distal rushes of since passed “New Brighton Park, July 2013” and its minimal yearnings, or perhaps the mysterious “TEAC Poem” that loses itself in bubbling echoes of its own voice, this aquatic echo chamber that makes reference to her elegant bones and the direct damages she’s doing to our pleasant past by “slitting strips of memory”. Or perhaps even more obviously in the ethereal choral drones of ” Red Gate With Starling” (and indeed its followup “Rooms”), Craig shining softly, carefully, lovingly through as he tries to unravel her complexities, her inner workings, losing himself in her thoughts in folding loops: “All your hallways, corridors/ “No idea where they go but through”.

How is it possible to distil the romance, the existentialism, the innocence and effortless purity of this record? It feels so young and exploratory, so earnest and naive I just can’t help but get sucked in and caught up in its workings, watching it try to figure things out and come to terms with troubling (and not so troubling) thoughts. Above all it feels vaguely frustrated; what good is it having a voice if you can’t even fully express these emotional things swirling in your head? How can we ever convey a true sense of feeling to someone else? Well I’ll tell you, Craig’s haunting vocals and rich processings come just about as damn close as you can get to an emotional transplant if you ask me. I don’t just think this is an essential album, I think it’s mandatory listening.