Avant Rock reviewed by Tom Ridge
Whether its a case of making a virtue out of necessity, or more about contrived atmospherics, Brian Grainger's debut solo album is a beguiling collection of murky, crackling home recorded ambient guitar pieces. The record hums with a fuzzy low level energy, offsetting the crystalline clarity of the music with a pleasing sense of spontaneous imperfection. Grainger works through various drone based and tonal scenarios but he also favours reverb-heavy chiming guitar runs and bent distorted notes. The gritty patina of distortion and fuzz is never over intrusive and as on the hypnotic centrepiece "A Soft White Chamber", often positively contributes to Grainger's dreamlike compositions.
Brian Grainger (aka Milieu, Coppice Halifax, Teenager, Vhom, and Pink Space, and Second Sun Recordings co-manager) weighs in with Eight Thousander, a debut solo collection of blissed-out soundscapes. Apparently, the material was completely improvised on guitar and organ without any overdubs, though the instruments sometimes are altered so dramatically they verge on unrecognizable. In “Whitecaps,” for example, whistling tones drift like phantoms over a haze of washes, and elsewhere titles like “Drowned” and “Oceanic” help tell the story of a project that's often about celestial drift, ghostly reverberance, and softly shuddering guitars. The instrument's delicate meander is almost smothered in crackle and haze during the thirteen-minute “A Soft White Chamber” and retiring “Retuned Minor” while its twang and strum dominate the bucolic folk reverie “Lost in the Woods.” Two untitled pieces close the album, the first an electrical drone and the other a relatively more conventional exercise in haunted atmospherics. The album as a whole puts guitar front and center, whether it's instantly recognizable or not, and the album should prove rewarding to fans of atmospheric, axe-oriented soundscaping.
From Almost Cool:
A set of eight incredibly stripped-down ambient pieces recorded exclusively with guitar and organ, Eight Thousander is the debut release from artists Brian Grainger (Milieu, Free Festival). An entirely improvised release with no overdubs, this sparse, droning recording is lo-fi all the way and flickers with the sort of slowly-evolving feel that one might expect given the out-of-focus dusky photos gracing the album artwork. Although it's in a completely different genre musically, Grainger makes use of the same warm, fuzzy sonics that groups like Bibio and others have churned out. It's lo-fi all the way, with sparse melodies that roll under grainy washes of sometimes overdriven drones. The first three tracks act as a triptych of sorts, with "Drowned," "Whitecaps," and "Oceanic" all drifting through a combined eleven minutes of muted whale-call and distant lighthouse-style sweeps. "Above The Sky" follows, and some murky guitar chords shift the feel a bit, shattering the placid surface with dark ripples. From there, it's back to a longer, more static piece in "A Soft White Chamber," before a track like "Wind Calmly Bands Our Hair" calls to mind the lovely work of Brian Eno with its reflective, but almost algorithmic progressions and warm tones. In addition to the eight listed tracks, there are a couple hidden bonus droners that push the total running length of the release up to nearly fifty five minutes in length. Although it has a somewhat unique aesthetic, there are only a couple places on Eight Thousander that really push outside the box.
(They gave it a 5.5 out of 10)
Alan Weisman’s recent book The World Without Us speculates on the Earth’s post-human development. Were it not a contradiction of sorts, Brian Grainger’s desolate guitar improvisations would provide an ideal soundtrack for this vision. His approach culls aspects of Stars of the Lid’s oceanic wash, Flying Saucer Attack’s grainy panorama and especially Roy Montgomery’s talent for describing space through sound. The opening trio of pieces captures a mood of twilight weariness; the guitar’s muted figures nested in the amp’s unmasked electric hiss. “Above the Sky” breaks free of the pregnant drone into a tremolo wide enough to bend at the edges. The only slight misstep comes on “Lost in the Woods,” a track that fetishizes the delay and creates a miasma of overlapping notes that disrupts the albums overall arc. Grainger’s unvarnished, no overdub strategy gives the work a vital feel despite its overall coolness and restraint.
Peculiar. Very peculiar. This, the first solo release from Brian Grainger, is an ambient/atmospheric/instrumental release that can really alter your consciousness. The eight tracks on this album are improvisational compositions recorded using only a guitar and an organ...and there are no overdubs. But what is most intriguing about this album...is that the sounds in these songs sound nothing like a guitar or an organ. Grainger saturated the sounds coming from his instruments to the point where they are truly unrecognizable. His subtle drones are foreign and strangely calming. It's almost as if you are deep, deep, deep in a cave and you can hear something in the distance that doesn't sound quite like music...perhaps echoes from the ocean or the wind. Very slow and subdued, these pieces are bound to please anyone who ever loved Brian Eno's early ambient releases. If you want to create a weird mood in your living environment, this one will surely do it. Ahhhhhhh............
And as a nice surprise - a review of VCV's 3753 Cruithne at Press Play & Record:
I recently bought the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Strange, really, that I'd not considered doing so until recently, because it's one of my favorite films of all time. Every time I watch it--and I do so a lot, mind you--it still leaves me a bit puzzled, if not pensive. But Kubrick's decision to make the soundtrack a mixture of modern composers and classical compositions proved quite astute. Hell, I'll even be honest enough to say that the soundtrack scares me a bit.
I bring this up simply because I'm hearing a lot of that soundtrack on VCV’s 3753 Cruithne. The work of Brian Grainger and David Tagg, these nine compositions are deep, heavy, and dark; they embody space, literally. The songs are slow, brooding, and about as vast and meandering as outer space. Like the 2001 soundtrack, these songs haunt you as they wonderfully soundtrack a disturbing journey to Jupiter. In fact, I made a playlist containing a few of these songs and a few of Grygori Ligeti's compositions, and I never noticed when one switched to the other. When I shared a song with a friend of mine, he said, "Oh, by the way, I just sold some Stars of the Lid records on eBay." Yes, VCV follow in SOTL's footsteps, too; unlike other drone artists who have imitated the Texas duo, the duo of VCV seem to understand "understated" in the same way.
3753 Cruithne is an excellent debut. I don't know if VCV is a one-off; let us hope not. If it is, then let us praise it as a harbinger of greater things to come.
If you want more, though, Brian Grainger has also released a solo record. Entitled Eight Thousander, the album contains songs not unlike VCV's epic, calm space rock, but Grainger also explores more terrestrial sounds, and he incorporates piano throughout, producing gentle sounds that remind me of Harold Budd. It's beautiful and not as ominous as VCV's style, and it is a relaxing instrumental trip.