Ian William Craig: Cradle for the Wanting

Upon reviewing Ian William Craig's 2014 debut album, A Turn Of Breath, we couldn't help but notice similarities between Craig's vocal-based music and Akira Rabelais's, specifically the style of music featured on the latter's spellewauerynsherde (Samadhisound, 2004). Listening to A Turn Of Breath, it was hard not to draw a connection between the traditional Icelandic singing that Rabelais so dramatically altered using his Argeïphontes Lyre software and the similarly ancient-modern vocal music the Edmonton-born Craig, a trained opera singer, had created.

Craig's follow-up Cradle for the Wanting won't disappoint those who embraced so fervently his debut outing. It's not unusual for the gestation process for a first album to involve a number of years, in contrast to the shorter time spent readying the second, and that turns out to be the case here, too: whereas the recording process for A Turn of Breath encompassed several years, Cradle for the Wanting was recorded in only a few months. Another difference between the albums is that the debut features vocal and instrument sounds; the second, recorded last winter in Vancouver, consists of vocals only. That doesn't mean, of course, that the sound design is any less dense on the new recording; if anything, Craig's soundworld has grown even more elaborate. Presumably he's used the same production methodology on the second as he did the first, again manipulating his voice using tape malfunctions and a system of reel-to-reels. Vocals might be the sole sound source, but the range of effects the treatments produce makes for sonorities so diverse it's hard to believe they all originated from Craig's voice. The dive-bombing effect with which “Empty, Circle, Tremble” begins is but one of many startling moments on the album.

His voice emerges in layered form to haunting effect during the quietly ecstatic overture “Doubtshapes,” its wordless vocal surges offset by corroded static at its edges. In “Habit Worn & Wandering,” the sound of his supplicating tenor grows ever more hypnotic when it loops throughout, all the while blurred by distorted treatments billowing alongside it, while “Grace in Expectation” caps the release with an exceptionally beautiful coda of gospel-tinged exhalations. Throughout the recording's eight tracks, vocal murmurs hang suspendedly in the air, circulating around one another like smoke trails and their pitches extending from deep bass tones to high falsetto shivers.

Craig does something on this recording (and its predecessor, too) that's unlike what anyone else is doing in the way he combines hymnal vocal performances that seem as if they might have time-traveled from centuries ago to the present day with boldly experimental sound treatments that feel very much of their time. As fascinating as that blend is, however, those moments where his singing separates itself from the mass (such as the one that occurs midway through “Empty, Circle, Tremble”) are still some of the album's most memorable.

November 2015