So far Durham based The Crystal Cabinet is three for three with its releases. Matt Marble’s The Living Mirror and Lucy Adlington and John Pope’s Mercury were sonically stimulating with beautiful artwork and packaging. Now New Orleans based musician Emily McWilliams joins the party with her latest album Form in Flow. It’s slightly sparser then the previous two releases, but possibly the label’s most powerful release to date. Under austere pauses and inverted noise, there is a feeling of joy, passion and ultimately love.
At first, I found ‘silver.orange.rose.silver. – zzz – silver.orange. – z – silver.’ hard to get into. It felt like McWilliams had lots of ideas, and points to make, but in her haste to get going, everything was coming out garbled in – and I quote 65daysofstatic here – a ‘Stumble. Stop. Repeat.’ pattern. After a few notes McWilliams stops, then plays the same motif again. Repetition is nothing new. Avant-garde composers have made careers of this kind of playing. The tones McWilliams gets are clinical and sinister, like something from a thriller/slasher film, but they aren’t maudlin. Instead, as ‘silver.orange.rose.silver. – zzz – silver.orange. – z – silver.’ progresses swirling atmospherics join the mix to create something deeply moving. ‘orange. – z’ is the most musical track on the album. McWilliams actually allows herself to play some glorious melodies that last longer than a few notes. There is a swaying motion around the halfway point that is wonderfully lopsided and brings to mind teenage booze cruises around Poole Harbour. The boat is going one way. The horizon the other, but due to being hammered it felt like a fluid motion, rather than three things going against each other. Towards the end McWilliams ends the album as it started. With sparse instrumentation and swirling atmospherics.
Listening to Form in Flow there is an overriding joyfulness to the music. Under all the ‘Stumble. Stop. Repeat.’ nature of the music, there is a real love blossoming. This comes from a musician working with an instrument they love. Here it’s the piano. McWilliams manages to coax out of it sounds, and tones, usually not heard. This is probably in part that McWilliams is an experienced piano technician as well as a composer and musician. There is a section about a third of the way though ‘orange. – z – rose. – z – silver.’ where all we hear is a rhythmic banging and the tinkling of keys. Under this there is an atmospheric drone. It feels like inverted noise. There is a trend in experimental music to fill gaps with harsh sounds. Walls of white noise and static are usual the go to aesthetic. Here though McWilliams gets a similar effect by using the recording of what appears to be an empty room. This inverted noise has the same effect. The silence can be overpowering and when some musicality returns, it has more power than if McWilliams has used a heavy fuzz. The sound of recording empty space that reminds me of underwater brine lakes in the deep sea. The music, and rhythm, just sits suspended above it. The notes are sparse and irregular but each one is precise, giving it a specific meaning. While writing this review, the motifs resonate a profound melancholy, but are also playful. Its this combination of feelings that makes Form in Flow a fun, and I use this word in the correct sense, a fun listen.
Form in Flow lives up to its name as there is constant movement to the piano music. Never is it stationary. Always it is going somewhere. You might not like the conclusions McWilliams reaches but the journey there is memorable. While this album isn’t for everyone, it is something that everyone should try in their mediative, and reflective, moments as it offers an escape from the daily grind and is only for 10-20-minutes at a time.
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