James Brewster: As a Hovering Insect Mass Breaks Your Fall
Make Mine Music

Currently abiding in Malmö, Sweden, English producer James Brewster returns with his fourth solo album, the previous three having appeared under his now-retired Mole Harness alias (he ended the project in 2008, having decided that its combination of guitar treatments and electronic processing had gone as far as it could). As a Hovering Insect Mass Breaks Your Fall is significant for not only being the first full album he's recorded since moving to Sweden in 2006 but the first issued under his given name—a move that signifies new beginnings and artistic possibilities. The recording suggests that leaving behind the Mole Harness persona has proved to be liberating for Brewster, as the new album samples a large number of stylistic options—Brewster unharnessed, one might say. As a Hovering Insect Mass Breaks Your Fall unfolds like an uninterrupted travelogue with multiple locales referenced along the way. That the journey even includes a techno-related episode, in addition to prog-like moments, chiming folk-pop melodies, ambient soundscaping, spoken word passages, and bits of shoegaze, shows just how wide-ranging the trip is. Brewster also brings into the album's fold an unusual cast of contributors, from Gravenhurst's Nick Talbot and Suzi Gage (of Bristol band You and the Atom Bomb) to Iranian puppet-artist Soodabeh Haaji and Albanian opera singer Egzona Gervalla.

At album's start, “Vel kvonen” overlays a stately keyboard episode with a vocal by Men Diamler that's so dramatic, it's reminiscent of the kind of over-the-top delivery one associates with a Rick Wakeman opus like Journey to the Center of the Earth or The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. That brief opener—a prelude, really—is supplanted by “Vraikan sundan,” where interlocking bell patterns are overlaid by Gervalla's hypnotic singing. It's in this twelve-minute setting that Brewster's artistry comes fully to the fore in the track's multi-layered weave of sound elements—bells, melodica, blustery field recordings—and Gervalla's vocal patterns; multi-episodic by design, “Vraikan sundan” shape-shifts a number of times, and re-inserts as it does so Diamler's earlier vocal melody before a tinkling bells episode occurs. Brewster himself sings too during the restrained meditation “Landfall,” his appealing voice clearly unenciating the English lyrics in a style that comes across like a more plain-spoken David Sylvian. In “Crumbling Spires,” he spits out rapid-fire spoken word against a clattering percussive backdrop that slows when the vocals of fellow Englishman Daniel Goody (of Malmö band Steel Island) appear. Talbot's presence elevates “Wingbeat fission,” especially when the vocals swell into a multi-layered arrangement, before the tune unexpectedly shifts gears for a gurgling acid-techno throwdown—not the first kind of thing one would expect from Brewster—that then morphs into shoegaze pop and finally a violent insect swarm and brief spoken word passage by Haaji.

A few guitar-based moments recall Brewster's Mole Harness material but they're the exception, not the rule. As a Hovering Insect Mass Breaks Your Fall is a recording about new beginnings and as such strikingly covers an impressive amount of ground in its forty three minutes. Apparently, Brewster already is hard at work on a follow-up—Tales in Brick Dust the working title—that'll again feature collaborators plus an even wider variety of instrumentation than before. It wouldn't surprise me at all if that future release turns out to be as rewarding as the current one.

February 2011