A strange brew of instrumentals both becalming and boisterous…
Noveller - Fantastic Planet

I don’t know much about guitar techniques. I have all the hands-on musical ability of a brick. But I know what I like, and how what I like makes me feel. And I like Noveller, and how ‘Fantastic Planet’ makes me forget the cold misery outside my door and escape to some sun-drenched distant world, three moons on the horizon and alien flora brushing my knees as I stumble forward giddily, intoxicated by the seductive squall inside my head.

Noveller is the solo project of Sarah Lipstate, a supremely gifted guitarist who recently toured as support to St. Vincent, with past credits including a brief stint as a member of riotous party-time alt-rockers Parts & Labor. I recall seeing her with said New Yorkers, on stage at Birmingham’s Supersonic Festival – must have been 2008, when the (then recently) reformed Harmonia appeared in a headliner capacity. I was mesmerised: this unassuming figure, utterly shredding, mercilessly slaying expectations, completely ruling. I was smacked into a state of total awe that I’m yet to be shaken from.

Noveller is a comparatively gentler project than Parts & Labor – but that doesn’t mean it’s any the less blessed by attention-grabbing qualities, and can break into some terrific noise when the situation suits. This is ambient music in the sense that it’s best experienced in isolation, free of distractions, where it can unhurriedly construct mind’s-eye imagery – it’s foreground music, not fare to be enjoyed as a barely distracting drone while you press on with a day’s to-do list. It’s full of colour and life, far from the meandering, meaningless guitar indulgence heard on, for example, the completely awful ‘new’ Pink Floyd album

‘Fantastic Planet’, the latest of many solo releases, isn’t self-serving, then – it’s music to be shared, consumed as a means of distancing oneself from the realities that threaten to turn a day darker. ‘Rubicon’ is as sweet and sharp as the fizzy pop it shares its title with (it’s more likely named after the Caesar-famous Italian river, mind), a bubbling miasma of meditative buzzes and loops, wholly enveloping. Opener ‘Into The Dunes’ (audio, below) is Slint by way of a poster paint-filled Super Soaker, spraying warm ochre across an undulating landscape.

‘Growing’ is a gorgeous reaching out into the stars, while ‘In February’ strikes a more melancholic mood, a distinctly personal piece amongst others that don’t quite possess such an immediately apparent emotional edge. ‘Pulse Point’ shrieks as if in the grip of a relentless robotic titan, smashing through a surrealist’s vision of a forest on fire; and closer ‘The Ascent’ brings the entire endeavour back to Earth with assured riffing cascading across a crystalline background of distant digital twinkles. The overall impression is something akin to a boosters-scorched, 30-something-years-later companion piece to Brian Eno’s ‘Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks’; and if you loved that 1983 album, you will find much of comparable appeal within these nine compositions.

‘Fantastic Planet’ is an album of striking, singular images, then; snapshots that can only develop while the eyes are shut and the ears wide open. I’m not wholly sure of how it’s all done – there are pedals to make almost any sort of sound you like, of course – but I can acknowledge that Noveller is a rare and special artist, obviously talented but taming any and all temptation to go all-out explosive, instead presenting a strange brew of instrumentals both delightfully becalming and playfully boisterous. I feel it long enough after it’s finished, and soon return to its comforting distortions.  

8/10

Words: Mike Diver

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