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Sarah Hennies – Casts (Astral Spirits)

Experimental musician Sarah Hennies is on a roll. So far in 2020 she has released four albums. Her latest, Casts, is her second in September and a re-issue of a long out of print release from 2014. Like her previous releases, Casts leans more toward sound art than conventional song writing. Throughout its 50-minute duration the pieces are filled with bewitching melodies that initially feel abrasive, and slightly obtuse.

Opening track ‘Speech’ is a prime example of this. It consists of a male voice saying “Car” for about six minutes. On paper this sounds like a terrible idea. In practice, however, it’s a strangely welcoming and rewarding listen. At first you think it’s just a sample repeated but as the speaker draws breath, speeds up, slows down, it stops just being one word repeated a few hundred times. The inflection also changes. Some cars are harsh. Others friendly. What is interesting is that after the first minute you stop paying attention to what is being said and are being drawn into this hypnotic, never ending, rhythm. About a third in there is a 4/4 beat that slowly starts to get brough in. The final section is just this beat. At first you don’t realise that the vocals have stopped as, well, the words weren’t important in the first place, only the consistency with which they were said.

The title of ‘Speech’ meant its themes were hiding in plain sight, and ‘Vibraphone’ is no different. The song consists of a minimal vibraphone piece being played on loop for 20-minutes. It’s droney, claustrophobic, playful and incredibly compelling. As it continues the pace increases to create an almost continuous sound. Then, as swiftly as it started, the pace drops like a professional cyclist the highest ascent of a mountain stage, and a glorious drone appears. This monotone monster ushers in the outro which is as graceful as it is unnerving.

The beauty of ‘Casts’ is how all the songs start off so singular in their vision. Something is repeated ad nauseum. However, it is through these repetitions that intriguing rhythms and patterns are created. These patterns are hypnotic and compelling. The longer you listen the more you are drawn into Hennies’ kaleidoscopic world. Part of this is down to how they were recorded. Live. Each of the four tracks were recorded somewhere between 2012 and 2014 in either Austin, TX or Ithaca, NY. The urgency of these live performances permeates through them. The songs really come alive when you realise that they aren’t just studio samples, like the taking gulps of air in ‘Speech’. This helps ground them in the real world rather than existing in some self-contained bubble. ‘Casts’ isn’t an easy listen, and at times it can be the opposite of that, but what it does is offer just under an hour of music that is free from tangible handholds and generic themes. You are the one who determines their meaning.
Which feels far more important in a world of instant gratification.

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God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.