Still Harbours – Armature (ROHS!, 2020)

Every time I take a pause from writing, reviewing, whatever this is, I find the difficulty factor in returning escalates with every day that passes. It’s probably just rust, the necessary gears between the expressive and, well, hearing and feeling parts of my brain seizing up in the interim.


what if it wasn’t?

There’s something about this space, with its suggestively blank text boxes and simple publishing and maintenance, that feels tough to approach now. I’ve sat down to write almost 500 times over these nearly nine years, and rather than getting any easier, it only seems to become more daunting. Am I running out of things to say? Does this thing continue to serve the same purpose? Are these hiatuses hardening into armature, a defence against continuation?

These things are on my mind for obvious reasons, though also for the music contained with the new Still Harbour’s LP. Another beautiful sonic realm crafted by Brad and Jamie, though this time around there’s a closeness, even a delicate guardedness, to the sound sprung from the stoppage of 2020.

Given the state of the year we’ve had there’s some distinctly darkling moments here as a result, such as mid-album “Shadow Creatures of the Moon”, moving with transient drones on the edge of suggestion. It hums like power lines suspended against the night sky, lost to navel gazing in navy tones, stars sparkling with distant glimmering tones. Alone in the cool dark safety of night.

Spectral closer “The Shape of Modern Tragedy” also moves in melancholia, its self-titled disaster one of slow-motion degeneration, a gentle unravelling of shifting guitar drones and lonesome field recordings. It picks itself apart, whittling into isolation, strings zeroing out of the mix with sharpening clarity. One in a million, one in a billion, separated from the whole by unseen forces that parse the individual from the collective. The same can perhaps also be felt in the brief but reverberant spaces of “In An Empty Room”, a relative desert compared to some of its cousins here.

Not to say that this is always the case throughout: there are always gaps in the armour, cracks where light pours in. “Rime” for me is the standout, a sublimely delicate and intimate piece of diffuse loops and soft drones. It radiates a certain soft romance, a luminescent poetry as layer by layer the ice lays down, glazing, encasing, paving the world beneath it in a purifying sheen. I don’t think it would be unfair to say it may be my favourite track from this year.

Elsewhere, penultimate “Passerine” falls into a weightless sky and open air, suspended in a fine emulsion of hovering feathery drones and untouchable aerial textures. There’s a freedom and unburdened openness, pinging xylophones piercing the stillness like wafts of birdsong, heralds of life whose tales magically, mysteriously float their way to us around sullen defences.

These are counterbalances, reminders of goodness and pleasantry in a modern, diseased world. The pausal sophomore “Consequence of Silence” underscores the need for change borne from the contemplation conferred by quietude. It embodies the moments many of us felt during lockdown, the usual urban roar subdued temporarily and a sense of odd tranquility and peace descending. Glowing tracery moves gracefully here, soothing New Age-y synths refilling these new found spaces with a necessary energy we must savour.

It shouldn’t be forgotten: all of this means something, an opportunity to change, to use the armour not as a defence against the progressive forces of inevitability, but to protect all those precious things that cling on. The scraps of nature in our towns and cities, the glimpses of clean air and clear skies we saw in isolation, the dampening of an overly-busy world to a pace we all know should be normal.

But the sadness, the lost hope. We will continue to sit down and broach these problems time and again, peering at the inviting text boxes and one-click publishing and find it harder and harder to make the fight. Are we running out of things to say? Is what we’re doing making an impact? Yet we’ll do it anyway, because it all needs to be said, and the world is a dimmer place without your voice in it. And, I suppose, mine too.