I figured Seth Nehil’s latest was a safe bet to purchase sound unheard – his work rarely disappoints. Lair follows the path set out in Knives, his last full-length released 3 years past. Its press proclaims it to be a darker and noisier take on a similar palette of heavily studio-edited acoustic and electronic sources: with which I would agree to a certain point. The openers ‘Filmy’ and ‘Vent’ certainly add weight to the claim: they are full of stochastic sampling of acoustics, effects and treatments which could be found as appropriately on a classic 1970’s piece of maximalist musique concrète as on one of the contemporary pointillist releases sharing space with Knives on Senufo Editions.
On the other hand, ‘Yes’ strikes a rather different chord with me. Its arrhythmic keyboard tones and vocal bursts have an almost humourous effect not unlike some of Bosetti’s recent work. This may be my reaction to the pseudo-punk aesthetic which pervades the album – short aggressive songs with little room left for contemplation and sharply asynchronous sound sources packed onto some magnetic tape in the palm of the hand. A similar operatic vocal delivery can found on the opening track of Nehil’s Furl. There, however, it is used climactically within a repeating and incredibly tense atmosphere of minimal tones. Here, in amongst a literal cacophony of sound, its immensity elicits from me instead a laugh. I question whether other listeners would have a similar response, though I will quickly point out that my reaction is certainly not meant to be denigrating. (Punk has always made me laugh – though it’s said laughter is a common response to terror.)
Vocals of a differing nature are found in the album’s more contemplative moments. The softly sung ‘Lunar’ for instance, or the nearly-post-rock of ‘Bulk’. For an artist who adopted the use of vocals rather late in his career, Nehil has a wonderful ear for using their timbre creatively and cohesively with both acoustic instruments and electronics – something of a standout in a field often split evenly between spoken word and screeching.
Omnipresent in the recordings is a sense of fragility or instability. No one sound or structure ever dominates for long as samples burst in and cut out of play. Those that linger do so only tenuously, as the softly stuttering vocals of ‘Hem’ or piezo rustlings on ‘Dense’. All of which is rather appropriate for cassette – the music will age well with its medium.
Much of my early electroacoustic taste had developed alongside the subtly harmonic and field recording-imbued haze of Seth Nehil’s and Olivia Block’s (among others’) junior and sophomore releases. In this sense Furl and Knives were something of a revelation – both for Nehil’s oeuvre and my own sensibilities. The spiky tactile detail presented here requires multiple and purposeful listens to grasp (it certainly resists be listened to passively while writing this) and is obviously the stronger for it.