Clash is in trouble. The review for the new album by Ian William Craig is late. It's not just late, it's very late. The reason? Well, if you are a fan of the work of this one of a kind artist then you'll be able to hazard a more than reasonable guess: try as we might, we have not felt able to critically distil its impact into a pithy piece of circa 300-500 words. Clash wants to level with you, reader of this review, that it has been very concerned about this. Sleep has been waylaid. Review introductions more prosaic, more pretentious even than this one, have been scripted, only to be tossed away. Deadlines loomed, flew by and then faded into the distance, and still it seemed impossible to suitably analyse this formidable album. And then a revelation: that's the point of music really isn't it? To perplex, to beguile, to astonish, to challenge and to entertain. With Centres, Ian William Craig has accomplished all of these aims with great aplomb.
The ninth full-length album of his career, Centres marks Ian William Craig's debut on 130071, an imprint of Fat Cat which is also home to Max Richter, Jóhann Jóhannsson and artists of a similarly post-classical ilk. What sets him apart from his contemporaries, however, is that his sonic palette is so diverse, mixing analog and synthesized sounds to glorious effect. Centres was created using a mixture of sources: synthesizer, Hammond organ, guitar, accordion, wire recorder, loop station, Craig’s array of re-purposed vintage reel-to-reels and an 18 deck “cassette choir”. So far so impressively esoteric. But does it turn out to be any good?
Just listen to magisterial opener 'Contain (Astoria Version)' for a definitive answer. Distressed vocals shimmer and slide wondrously atop a bed of synths which grow and grow subtly throughout the song's ten minutes. As the foreboding bass resonates, some widescreen chordal elements emerge. By the time of the track's conclusion, its sheer visceral power leaves you floored. In the midst of it all, Craig's vocal comes through more stridently than Clash can ever remember hearing previously. It is a triumph. A textured, near-symphonic triumph.
'A Single Hope' comes off like the best of William Basinski's 'Disintegration Loops' work, but with the added beauty of harmonising, distorted choral vocals and a thunderous bass element. 'A Circle Without Having To Curve' unfolds over ten oddly forceful minutes, staking a strong claim to soundtrack a particularly dramatic section of a left-field space movie whilst the largely vocal 'Purpose (Is No Country)' and synthesized 'Innermost' show that Craig is capable of concision and compositionally direct work. The album's close is the (Cedar Version) of 'Contain', which, perhaps most surprisingly of all the surprises on this richly varied piece of work, is, to all intents and purposes, an acoustic campfire singalong.
This is the beauty of Ian William Craig and his work. He has vision and ambition beyond the scope of most of us and he is able to bring it to fruition. Long may he find new fans for his challenging but deeply satisfying work.
Words: Haydon Spenceley
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