Antonymes: There Can Be No True Beauty Without Decay

There Can Be No True Beauty Without Decay is both an old and new Antonymes recording: old in that it's a re-release of Ian Hazeldine's (now unavailable) 2009 Antonymes album Beauty Becomes the Enemy of the Future, which was issued on his own Cathedral Transmissions label; new in that the release couples re-recordings by Hazeldine himself with interpretations of the originals by Ian Hawgood, Katie English (Isnaj Dui), Jason Corder (Offthesky), Christoph Berg (Field Rotation), Wil Bolton, Harry Towell (Spheruleus), and James Banbury. The participation of such guests brands the 2013 model a Hibernate release in the truest sense.

A number of things about the album stand out right away. First of all, while the guests' names are listed, the tracks themselves for which they're individually responsible aren't identified, leaving it up to the listener—if he/she is so inclined—to try to match a given track to the contributor. In fact, the only detail that appears to identify a track as being an Antonymes update or guest artist's track is the [I] or [II] designation that accompanies each of the fourteen pieces. That the clarifications are left vague turns out to be a bit of a non-issue, however, as were one not to know beforehand that the album features non-Hazeldine productions, one would hear the classically tinged, ambient-drone material as the work of Antonymes only, so cohesive is the elegant final product. That's not to suggest that there aren't noticeable differences between the tracks, as there are, but despite that the album comes together as the seeming creation of a single artist. One final sequencing detail is worth noting: the album features two versions of the same seven tracks, with all seven appearing in the same order but the [I] and [II] versions intermingled within each run-through. Again, the listener is thus able to undertake a track-by-track comparison between the Hazeldine and guest artist versions, if he/she wishes.

That the result is so cohesive is easily accounted for. For starters, all of the material is at root Hazeldine's so a common thread can't help but connect the material, and secondly, certain elements and moods persist throughout There Can Be No True Beauty Without Decay—though Hazeldine contributes piano, celesta, strings, church organ, and field recordings to his settings, the music's core sound is acoustic piano, and its fundamental mood is one of deeply felt melancholy (as hinted at by track titles such as “Borne of Sadness ” and “Forever Without Hope”). In an oft-serene collection that's generally slow, ponderous, and atmospheric, the piano asserts itself delicately and understatedly amidst textural sounds of vinyl crackle and crashing waves, and moments of stirring beauty abound: the tremulous strings that stretch across the illuminated landscape during “Strange Light [II]”; the soft ambient-styled glimmerings that sparkle hazily through “The End of Everything [II]”; and the starburst static that speckles the fading luminescence of “Strange Light [I].” Arguably, the recording's loveliest moment arrives at the end, with “The End of Everything [I]” exuding a melodic sweetness and sadness that's not only powerfully affecting but also, surprisingly enough, a tad reminiscent of a Pat Metheny ballad (in particular one featuring Lyle Mays). Any similarity to the music of the jazz guitarist notwithstanding, There Can Be No True Beauty Without Decay is clearly an album guaranteed to satisfy listeners whose taste runs towards Hibernate and Home Normal and associated artists such as Field Rotation, Offthesky, and, naturally, Antonymes.

January 2014