Less Bells – Solifuge (Kranky, 2018)

After some fruitless searching for the word “solifuge”, I turned to the press release that I probably should have read in the first place to learn that it is, in fact, a portmanteau of “solitude” and “refuge”. This blending of distance & isolation with a feeling of safety and security speaks to my introversion and the power, nay, the need to find solace in escape.

Paradoxically, often what one finds in solitude is volume and activity, a feeling of motion and change either previously undetected or not fully grasped whilst in the thick of it. Solifuge broaches this sensation of buzzing in the otherwise quiet spaces by filling each of its pieces with brimming string textures and drones and human voice sustains, feedback loops of thought.

Take “Desert” whose otherwise traditional perception of desolation is replaced with reality: wavering drones spill over one another like shifting dunes, great masses of sound grinding and rolling around the landscape in slow motion, anything but empty. Migrating tidal waves of land reconfigure themselves seemingly by themselves, uninterrupted by outside forces that would otherwise disrupt their natural flow.

Closer to home, “Forest Ghosts” conjures images of woodland entering Winter as fragile drones hum out like wind round tree trunks. Devoid of its Summer coat, the environment is bare, skeletal forms rising ashen out of the cold ground to glockenspiel tinklings as we tread thoughtfully through this once vibrant space. Time and thought bleed out, reverberating in its hollow shell. This is at odds to later “Golden Storm”, which shoots out in energetic passages of patterned strings and guitar picks before settling from its fractal beginnings. Slowly it descends into lightness, the fabric becoming floaty and genteel, notes stretching out in radiant strokes, purified.

Insidious darkness does creep in on several occasions here, firstly in mid-album “Valentine”. Slowly it grows, a textural waterfall of insistent strings and pressuring vocal coos that rise to a broad crescendo. Terse pluckings tease out a more rapid and immediate anxiety to supplement the long-term restlessness it carves out, unsure of itself and the creeping claustrophobia that it bows to. The very long and eerily titled “Milwaukee Protocol” spins out a more menacing and protracted mournfulness and disease across its span, strings creaking and screeching as it ebbs and flows, uncertainties and damages emanating from the induced coma of its namesake.

There is no such thing as silence, and one is never alone so long as you’re alive. Less Bells approaches the notion that the conscious mind will not stand still, although it may find some consolation and reprieve in the quiet spaces of the world, which themselves betray a secret activity. Motion is everywhere, flux is the natural order, and although we might find solace in standing quietly still the change still moves about us with vigour. So we too should follow.