Ian William Craig – Short of Breath/Fresh Breath (Recital, EPs, 2014/2018)


“One hour was sunlit and the most high gods
May not make boast of any better thing
Than to have watched that hour as it passed”

Those are the words of poet Ezra Pound from “Erat Hora”, also sung here in Short of Breath by Ian alongside intimate guitar. It is an ode to a moment, a feeling of preciousness to have lived and enjoyed a time so greatly that none may compare. It is this feeling of wist, of romanticism of the past, that drives so much of Ian’s music: from these two short EPs to their parent record A Turn of Breath, and indeed in precursory A Forgetting Place that laid its foundations (of which piece “One Hour Was Sunlit” appears…).

Released now in a special extended edition of that perfect 2014 LP, these two EPs drive home not only his point of reminiscence previously, but also serve as a portal back to the moment of its release and the sweetness of its discovery. Though only Fresh Breath is new to me, the extension of these pieces to the original work is a magical thing, and briefly I am 21 again and lost in time.

Short of Breath was released alongside the full length as a special edition, and mostly features reworks or alt versions of album content (with the exception of “Erat Hora”), albeit in touchingly distinct pieces. “Reason Simmers Over” mulches “Before Meaning Comes” into pulsating choral fragments and smeared indistinction, less like an introduction and more like a coda, a collapse into melancholia. “Red Gate Drifting”  also turns into a blur, drone passages lengthening out as the instant is drawn into suspension, like a dandelion seed caught in a paperweight. It crystallises in floaty vocal pieces, rushes of sound permanising the mystery and complexity of the untouchable past.

The highlight as ever is the final part of the glorious “A Slight Grip, A Gentle Hold” suite, this conclusive version the heaviest, most plaintive of the lot. It’s fuller in some ways, less explosive and abrupt than Part 2 and more passionate than Part 1, finally embracing the prospect of change that it sung about 4 years ago. Time changes nothing except everything.

Fresh Breath is a different beast, with all new unreleased tracks though recorded in the same era. They have a darker heart to what the record ultimately turned out to be: “6 Years, 33 Million (For Bo)” is a squeaky, rattling, rumbling bleakness, breath catching in rhythmic difficulty not dissimilar to Ben Frost’s eerie “Ó God Protect Me” in its life-support mechanisms. “Heaviness Sketch In Winter” follows up with guitar primitivism, a few chords stretched out over a thin drone abyss, a glowing sense of change threatened by its precipitous atmosphere, but they all revolve around behemothic “Genesis Device” a vision of sweetness in angelic pink vocals and sweet acoustic tones that transmutes into a rolling drone sea, as though capturing the transition from event to memory itself.

One final look is afforded in closing “Bon Voyage, Wesbrook 210), like a craned neck peering back through the rear window for a receding view. It’s misty eyed finality, a serenade of departure, being careful to do the moment justice in fragile reverie as the feeling of this precious chapter comes to an end.

I didn’t realise it until now but Ian’s curtain drawing on this record feels like one for me as well, a feeling of finality now as we discover that one of my favourite records of all time has yielded more and yet will yield no more. This four year epoch has been a tumultuous one and now it is closing, but I will always look back in fondness of discovering the staggering riches of A Turn of Breath, and for a brief instant I have been allowed to hear my favourite album of all time with new ears and wonder what the future will hold now.