put the lid back on the jar: chrissie caulfield on sky high diamonds

October 11, 2016 at 7:25 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Sky High Diamonds  – Helioglobe (download, digitalDIZZY, dD103)

Sky High Diamonds –  Ghosting The Edge (download, digitalDIZZY, dD94)

helioglobe

Well, this is embarrassing.

I was going to review an EP called Ghosting The Edge from Sky High Diamonds (Sarah Gatter). I’ve been listening to it on and off now since shortly after it was released in June. Now I finally get round to actually doing the writing and I find out that she’s released a full length album in the meantime!

This is actually a win-win situation. Both you and Sarah get a full length review of a whole album rather than a cursory overview of a three track EP, and I only have to write it up once.

—ooOoo—

Put the lid back on the jar

…isn’t the most obviously haunting sentence you’re ever likely to hear, but it’s been bugging me since I downloaded and listened to the EP. The track ‘Black Honey Jar’ has this line repeated over and over again until it becomes like a sinister chant – or possibly an order to a recalcitrant child. Every time I came back to the EP this was the line I had remembered, drilled into my brain by its rhythmic effect and sounds that accompanied it. ‘Black Honey Jar’ has been worked on since then and appears on the album as ‘Jar.Honey.Black’.  The repetition of the unlikely mantra has been reduced but, while I miss that strange refrain, the track is the better for it. And there are plenty more sinister repetitious chantings on the album to keep you in nightmares.

The two things that hit you most about this album are it’s sense of rhythm, and it’s sense of space. Even on the more (for want of a better word) ambient tracks there is a definite feel of a pulse and movement that seems central to the way the music progresses. Each track has it’s own space that it occupies too – informed by the rhythms that have been used to construct it and built upon with related textures and vocals. Take ‘Hunt Poet’ which happens over a background of sounds that are a bit like a film projector, giving the effect of a black & white cinema film happening behind the music or, at the other extreme end, we have ‘Sparking Limbs’ which sounds like it’s being performed in a war zone. The vocal styling at the end of that track make it sound like Kate Adie meets Björk. Yeah, NOW you want to hear it don’t you?

The title track ‘Helioglobe’ is one of the most beautiful examples of enhanced drone (a genre I just invented) as you’re likely to hear. The drone backing is a simple pulsating G that varies gently as the track progresses and the main vocal is a simple refrain fed through a delay with lots of feedback. Over this is layered more vocals each in their own time frame and the effect is a quite gorgeous counterpoint disturbed only by the house alarm going off 2 around minutes in – I always look round when I hear that! This is an example of the ‘space’ that exists in each piece and the way that those normally annoying ‘superfluous’ sounds you get when recording at home are here incorporated into the music. Rather than edit out that alarm, she’s left it in and integrated it into the texture such that it sounds like it was always intended to be there. The rhythmic element is mainly taken from the drone pulse, but the delay time takes over in the middle when it becomes the dominant texture for a while.

More obviously rhythmic is ‘Your Parasites’ with its industrial/mechanical beat that’s just slightly louder than the vocals such that it feels like she’s almost straining to be heard over the top. Here the rhythms get creepier and creepier as they gradually take over and grind to a halt at the end – has she been eaten by a giant cockroach? I’m too scared to look, and Kafka isn’t around to ask! Maybe that’s what the next track ‘Unseen Death Scene’ is about? ARGH! This has flies in it so maybe the insects really have taken over! I’ll wager that dark low drone is a giant wasp… Do wasps eat honey? Has anyone consulted the bees?

Speaking of bees (I don’t just throw this stuff together you know), the revised ‘Jar.Honey.Black’ is particular favourite of mine as I mentioned. The rhythms here seem derived from the vocal line that opens it, with incidental clinks from (I presume) a (I hope, honey) jar. There are a lot of seemingly incidental noises incorporated into this track and they really add to the feeling of it being recorded in an actual space – even if they weren’t necessarily recorded at the same time. There are breath sounds, and what sounds like the noise of something rubbing the microphone while recording. In my house that would almost certainly be a cat, but I’d be too much of a cleanist (another word I made up) to leave it in. Here again, the otherwise extraneous sounds are edited into the recording and made part of the rhythms of the piece. It’s all just wonderful to hear.

‘Sea Shanty Prayer’ is another drone-based track, with creaks and pops that give the feeling of being at sea on a rickey wooden ship. The large amount of reverb on the vocals means we’re either low down on deck in a large space, or we’ve been shrunk and we’re actually on top of a ship in a bottle… on the sea. I particularly love the idea of the latter so I’m sticking with it.

As for the final track ‘Sparkling Limbs’ – well. It’s hard to do justice to this in words really, you just have to hear it. Ideally 15 or more times, each louder than the last. I stand by the ‘Kate Adie meets Björk’ quip I made earlier and that’s maybe the best I can come up with. The only thing I have against this track is that it’s not half an hour longer.

ghosting-the-edge

I do recommend you also get the Ghosting The Edge EP to go with this album – it’s a free download, so hey, why not? Although ‘Jar.Honey.Black’ in its final form is a great track, hearing the earlier ‘Black Honey Jar’ is a different, if related, experience. Both affect each other. And it will make sure you always put the lid back on the jar.

My one concern about this album is it’s left-leaning propensities. No, that’s not a political point; a lot of the tracks sit very heavily on the left side of the stereo image. Listening on speakers, the effect isn’t too bad, it’s a little bit like she’s whispering to you in one ear. But on headphones it can get quite wearing and you can feel the palpable relief when you get to a track like ‘Ozio’ that has more conventional stereo panning. I’ve been told by Sarah that the album will be remastered and re-released next year, so I hope this small issue will be ironed out by then.

If you want to know how this album was really made (as opposed to my fevered ramblings) then Sarah has a blog post about it all on her website. I deliberately didn’t read it until I had written this review as I didn’t want it to influence what I was hearing. If you do read it then you can see just how different the production and the hearing (well, my hearing) of an album can be. That in itself is quite enlightening.

… and I still remember to put the lid back on the jar. Public service music at its best.

—ooOoo—

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