Monday, February 22, 2010

Celer - Cursory Asperses and In Escaping Lakes

Cursory Asperses and In Escaping Lakes are two exquisite, related albums by Celer, one of the finest and most prolific ambient/drone/minimalist groups to ever grace the earth, though tragically they did for only a few short years. From their formation in 2005 to their sudden end in the summer of 2009, Celer recorded no fewer than 30 full length albums, and this is a modest lower bound. The astonishing thing is that I haven't yet heard one that isn't an honest to god masterpiece.

Last summer, s of - introduced me to Celer via their album Capri, at the time their most recent release. I was just beginning to get deeply into the Texas duo Stars of the Lid, who today remain one of the best and most widely known drone groups; s had made some lofty claims that Celer are the genre's best kept secret, with albums outclassing even SotL's best. Capri impressed me immediately, and within a few weeks I was beginning to get seriously attached to it. Then, disaster, with the passing away of Danielle Baquet-Long and the consequent dissolving of Celer.

Since then I've done some exploring of the band's discography, and one thing I've found is that Capri is something of an anomaly. It consists of 29 tracks, most of which are shorter than 3 minutes, and only one of which exceeds 5. In a sense it's almost the ambient equivalent of a hip hop beat tape, like the recently blogged about Rap Beats Vol.1 by Samiyam. While Capri is an extremely enjoyable listen, I'm of the opinion that Celer's long form drone pieces, which are much more numerous in their catalog than albums like Capri, are even more sublime, because they allow much more time for the pieces to breathe and develop. Cursory Asperses and In Escaping Lakes are two of these.

These works are easy enough to describe superficially. The hard part, which might be impossibly hard, is capturing in words what really makes them special. Very subdued, ambient drones float, in stasis, with hardly any sense of time. Except, they don't quite stay in the same place...they ebb, they pulse in long graceful arcs. Saturation levels in the drones shift in gentle grades. Here a higher frequency cuts in for a few moments and dies away; there a deep rumble of bass moves shadowy just at the threshold of perception. Listen to any 10 second long sample of the piece, and it sounds like nothing is happening, and yet after a few minutes of listening it's really hard to tell if we're basically in the same place, musically, as before. That's because we're often not - these pieces aren't loop based, but are really organically changing over the course of their long durations. Cursory Asperses is just under an hour, and In Escaping Lakes is about 40 minutes long, and so far their structures have been too subtle for me to understand in conventional terms like ABAC or ABCD and the like. The pieces do have distinct movements, but they blend into each other so finely that borders are nearly impossible to reckon. Learning to detect and make sense of the paths these pieces follow is part of the joy of listening to them.

Of course, with sounds this good, it isn't really necessary to worry about or even give a thought to form. It's all too easy to put this on and just soak in the beauty, preferably while lying down with the lights off. Cursory Asperses features field recordings from around a stream, among other instruments with so much reverb applied you can't tell what they are, and sounds light, open, and cool. The drones are sinuous, slow and searching, like calm streams branching off a central river represented by the more bass-heavy tones. In Escaping Lakes is the sequel, and it has a lot more bass; play it after Cursory Asperses and the effect is like a slow plunge into still, cold depths.
Cursory Asperses is a series of pieces based around the single concept of slow movement. Throughout the process of composing and mixing, we kept in mind, and based everything on the form of certain field recordings, made at an isolated stream in the woods, of the slow trickle of the water, and of laundry hanging on cords in the backyard, flapping softly in the wind. While combining these field recordings with recordings of instruments, we mixed them into a more whole form of slow movement, with delicate, thin layers, but which we also intend to display our ideas interpreting the soft nature of Slow Flow. (Slow Flow)
In Escaping Lakes is the sequel to Cursory Asperses, previously released on Slow Flow. Where Cursory Asperses focused on the slow movement primarily of streams, and other field recordings, In Escaping Lakes continues this pathway to expand into a deeper subject, of lakes and their surroundings. Inspired by a painting by Anthony Feyer, In Escaping Lakes was made to demonstrate enclosure, depth, and closeness in still places. (Fluid Radio)
Fans of Celer still have 20 or more unreleased albums to look forward to. They have been coming out like hot cakes, and all of them are amazing.

Download Cursory Asperses (apologies for the low bit rate, but this still sounds great).
This album seems to be out of print.

Download In Escaping Lakes
Buy In Escaping Lakes

Post script: heartfelt thanks to Will Thomas Long of Celer for featuring this review on the Celer blog!

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