The lead cut on Which Way to Leave?, “Falling Forward” signals a rude change from the church-organ charged sound of Stockholm–based Aussie modular synthesist John Chantler’s last album, Still Light, Outside (2015, ROOM40).
It’s a much less texturally clotted sound, closer in tone and attack to classic, late 90s raw-glitch electronica of Pita and Rehberg & Bauer than to the acousmatic-leaning, deep listening Still Light, though that’s the mood to which Chantler returns.
The compacted, urgent, and explicitly melodic tenor of this taster track is bracing and brief. Four of the album’s first five cuts are less than four minutes long, and only one of nine in all stretches to ten minutes, but they run together, and the album unfolds as a suite.
“Falling Forward” runs into “Two and Four”, an organo-industrial, rapidly-cooling larval miniature that segues neatly into the other-wordly “Clearing” (I’m assuming the 3-4 second breaks between pieces are unique to the promo CD I’m reviewing – the actual release is vinyl- and digital-only) and the faintly Fenneszian, enraptured stargazing of “Fixation Pulse”.
As with both its predecessors, the new album combines home-brew modular synth recordings with some material concocted at Stockholm’s EMS electroacoustic music studio. There are also guest appearances by cellist Okkyung Lee and Carina Thorén, with whom Chantler has previously recorded for ROOM40 as For Barry Ray.
Much of the considerable attraction of this music stems from the unpredictable, firefly beauty of fleeting timbral juxtapositions. The short “Lesser Demands” is an open-book exercise in the micro-management of the modular synthesizer’s waywardness, but “All Visible Signs” is an altogether more refined and ravishing exercise in sonic decoction and smelting.
The wind-scoured, planar surface of “First December”, the album’s ten minute epic, and its corona-coda, “Second December”, are more static but no less complex, enfolding Lee’s cello and what might be abstracted vocal samples, along with echoes of high harmonic church organ.
Chantler’s albums seem to be evolving, becoming ever richer and more multi-faceted as he banks a diverse ‘library’ of source recordings – moods and music he’s evolved and inhabited, I’d guess, rather than simply recorded.
A track like the closing “Beginning Again”, with its liquid-droplet shimmers of curiously alien beauty, is something immersive to inhabit in contemplative wonderment.
John Chantler analogue synthesizer; Carina Thorén electronics; Okkyung Lee cello.
Buy Which Way to Leave? direct from ROOM40.