Daniel Avery & Alessandro Cortini – Illusion of Time (Phantasy, 2020)

I seem to end up talking about time a lot. Time, time, time. Part of this, it seems, is that as my friends and I get older, we find ourselves increasingly coming to terms with the fact that we’re moving (or have moved) beyond our youth. Adult life has its perks obviously, but as we become more entrenched in our careers and relationships and finances, it’s easy to be wistful about the simplicity of those times and the stuff we did/could do.

Another part of it is that nostalgia seems to be a big part of culture at present, this constant backwards gaze to times perceived to be better. Hard to deny when you stare at the news everyday, dominated by Brexit and Trump and coronavirus.

At the end of the day, most all that any of us has is the past; littered with fond moments such as it is, it’s easier and more comforting to reach back than it is to concern ourselves with futures unknown. But what are we reaching back to?

Thrilling opener “Sun” heaves with grumbling noise and sizzling static, huge synth chords bending out of the sky, out of time. A coastal vista spreads out ahead of us, sun-drenched and sweating under the blistered light and bleaching tones. A summer’s day baked into memory, and forged with specificity. No other moments reaches its scoured, breathless heights, though a couple come close.

Stereo synth flashings emerge in “Inside The Ruins”, ringing back and forth in echoic pairings both ploddingly exploratory and also effortlessly effusive. Events haunt our footsteps through familiar places like shadows, the past rising unbidden about us, projecting itself in increasing drama as it slowly merges into the noise with conjoined fervour. The sonic-memory of space comes through again similarly in “Enter Exit”, whose retro synth immediacy quickly becomes subsumed by fluidic static tones. Crooning, noisy guitar chords slowly begin to rend it apart as it dissolves away with metronomic precision.

These haunted moments are certainly tempered by more bucolic moments, such as the ephemeral beauty of “At First Sight”. Tape hiss veils the past from the present but doesn’t prevent interaction, as yearning guitar chords croon out of the mix. There’s desire here, re-invocation of feeling transported across the expanse, as fresh and as wanton as when it was first experienced. Surging closer “Stills” is filled with that same momentary focus, floating on airy drones that rise in a pulse of distorted guitar to some gossamer peak of fleeting brilliance. It dies away quickly though, that shining instant passed and allowed to dissipate into fragmentary, stuttering erasure to be forgotten until called upon again.

Whilst being dominated by the past, it’s hard to discern whether Illusion of TimeĀ is subservient to it or merely an innocent traveller of it. One thing is clear though, as evidenced in the title track’s bouncy arpeggiations and soft glaze of tape static, is that time’s passage is effortless and incontrovertible, captivating in the moment yet gliding by all too quickly and so easy to mourn the loss of. We dip in and out of it freely, enjoyably reminiscing on our peak moments, allowing the regular and the banal to pass us by and then being surprised at where it all went.

I think Avery and Cortini do well here not to glorify that youth we so often cast back to. Considering that all of this, all of now, will just become another navel gazing moment in the future like the rest of it, I’d prefer to spend this illusion in the present rather than granting ceremony to these distortions of moments passed.