Death is a spectre that makes itself known in many of Basinski’s works; it’s an inevitable side effect of the entropic tape loops he plays with so frequently, inherently futile in their reductions as they are. Complex essences are distilled into short bars whose value is only given power when stretched across many minutes of repetition; but that’s life though isn’t it, complex organisms ultimately reduced to a few glowing paragraphs in an obituary after an endless procession of days and years.
Basinski crafts his own eulogy for David Bowie here in the haunting reserves of “For David Robert Jones”, a strong harkening back to his Disintegration days as we find ourselves lost in distant and smudged loopings, grey and ashen in the face of loss. Thin, elegiac drones hover like steadying hands in the background before suddenly the track gives way; jazzy, saxophonic inclusions suddenly light up at the six minute mark to endorse their mournful advancements.
The result is a piece filled with noir, maudlin croonings, lamentations lost into a whiskey glass as the world darkens around us. It’s bleary, the lights about us burning out one by one, this reverie of life collapsing with each moment into strained oblivion as the mind turns to death and the threat of the abyss not just of self, but for all those we care about around us.
These haunting reminders of mortality are always jarring, the mind temporarily eclipsed by grief. Though there is always hope; “A Shadow In Time” sees individual loss for what it is: a speedbump, a temporary disturbance in the passage of our personal lives that can always be adapted around and gotten over. We have to, for our own sake.
It takes a very different tack to most of his looped pieces in achieving this; rather than cycling his typically fragmentary and brief sequences the track fills with drones that develop a long-form succession, gradually evolving with each of its several passes. At first they’re asynchronous, an amorphous mass of tones without cohesion, thoughts straying in each direction and filled with uncertainty and uneasiness. Slowly this darkling wave begins to strengthen its resolve, tidal crescendos crystallising into a collected whole like a protective barrier formed by shock, an opportunity arising then for recalibration and adjustment as a changed and inevitably emptier future begins to open out before us.
Though before we do dip our toes into tomorrow there’s a final goodbye as Basinski injects his own “Melancholia II” into the final five minutes. Personally I find the inclusion odd, like he couldn’t find a graceful way to end the piece, not to mention the somewhat darker air it lends the closing moments after our redemption arc, but it remains as beautiful and fragile as ever.
I love that he decided to open the new year with this record, it’s a reminder to leave 2016’s woes behind us and embrace the possibilities out before us. We may still have a little baggage with us (Melancholia II), but whatever’s happened is over now and all we can hope to do is just soldier on. Sage advice if we’re to avoid 2016’s crippling gloominess.