Stijn Hüwels & Danny Clay – An Unintended Space (Eilean Records, 2017)


If there was a sound for sitting quietly, a record that brought to musical life the act of being still and thoughtful in places new and old, it would be An Unintended Space. This is a record of whispers, of careful drone builds and gentle notations drifting out in blissful minimalism and reductive candour. There’s introspection here as it toys with nostalgia and change, of newness and evolution, but there’s also a sense of simple place, of just being somewhere in a moment and surprise at the richness that silence affords as we listen to our thoughts synchronise to the space around us.

Often that surprise is one of melancholia and disappointment, of unwanted change to the places we love; opening “2.18.2016 (I)” makes this very plain as it spins ghostly guitar smears, their edges frayed and haunted by static, allowed to run into ruin and disrepair. It moves quietly but quickly: hands over peeling paint and rusted iron; plasterwork crumbling under touch; it absorbs all of the damage, processes it sadly. Album centerpiece “3.25.2016 (I)” runs as a continuation on its theme, the drones smoother and more adapted this time as we turn to sight and memory. Everything about it is distal and faded, rolling in unfettered nostalgia as it mourns the memory of a place changed and lost, intermittent acoustic pickings cementing the sense of loss in sad little strokes.

Lengthier pieces like “3.25.2016 (I) use the elongate power of drone to its fullest effect; “3.13.2016” practically brims with enveloping textures, lush tones that hum and waver in initially hesitant, reticent migrations before the trickle of guitar chords and xylophonic notes nearer its conclusion begins to pave the way for more acceptant and empowered feelings. What once was somewhat tense and anxious begins to defuse, become almost excited at the prospect of the future in all its possibility; an important realisation that develops across the record. It all culminates in closing tune “3.25.2016 (II)”, where the push against change has finally melted away and acceptance drips from every facet. Wind whips in crinkling static, Wintry at first but quickly becoming lost in luxuriant drone light, radiant tones emanating a contented warmth supplemented by sweet xylophonic unwindings, glimmering little gems that turn and refract in the golden glow of this changed piece.

Time fixes all, they say; well I don’t know about fix but it certainly does change all. I think it’s incredibly apt that Huwels and Clay have created more forgiving, acceptant feelings in the longer pieces here, acknowledging that adjustment is a slow process that needs a more mature outlook and time to adapt. There’s a sullen petulance to the shorter bursts, not taking the requisite time to think and consider, be silent and embrace their surrounds, too eager to fill with negative emotion; a few quiet moments seems to be a more than effective cure and what a breath of fresh air they are.