Konntinent: Opal Island
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Opal Island, the second Konntinent full-length from Antony Harrison (Degrees, Integers on Symbolic Interaction in 2009 the first), registers as a classic late-night listen, the kind of recording that bridges the gaps between multiple states of consciousness. It's like a slow-burning fever dream which seeps into one's thoughts as light fades, as one's defenses go down, and when a sense of peaceful surrender settles in. At first the pieces sound like sketches that might have accumulated over time and that Harrison assembled into full-length form. But after repeated listens, an overall structure comes into focus, and the album begins to exert a soothing pull on the listener. It's also a ‘headphones' album, as Harrison often plays with the spatial distribution of elements, whether that be the subtle positioning of elements within the horizontal field or the conspicuous alternation between left and right channels.

The title track inaugurates the album mysteriously with what sounds like some special battalion arriving on the island and encroaching upon transmission offices at a central industrial station, and one even hears the seeming flutter of helicopter blades alongside the brooding textures and tones. Lisa Madisson helps ease the listener into a relaxed state when her softly uttered vocals appear alongside plaintive guitar motifs during “Dry Eyed.” Tempos gradually slow, until a track such as “Frost Fair” almost eschews beat structures altogether except for the ringing of a cymbal and tap of a rimshot. While in some cases the arrangements grow more skeletal, in this case Harrison weaves a dense selection of acoustic and electronic sounds into a thick mass, as guitar chords merge with bowed strings and the tinkle of bell percussion. The drift into unconsciousness continues when “Sabotka The Dreamer” immerses the listener into a deep synthetic pool of symphonic ambiance and guitar shadings, and the inward trajectory continues on thereafter during the tremolo-laden incantation “Numeral” where Harrison's own tremulous vocalizing appears. “Lossless” lulls the listener with cross-currents of electric guitar twang, and “Uncertain Steps To An Unknown End” closes the album in becalmed and peaceful manner.

One of things that distinguishes Harrison's approach is that while he clearly uses electric guitar and electronics as lead voices, he doesn't blend the two into an indistinguishable whole. Instead, he often uses micro-textures and rhythms (laptop-generated presumably) as a base against which he layers distortion-free electric guitar lines. Contrast results, then, between the clean timbres of the lead instrument and the hazier build-up in the background. There are moments when the material calls to mind the work of other artists—certainly the clicks, sonar bleeps, and monotone bass rhythms that anchor “Surrender Number” will remind many of Carsten Nicolai's alva noto style, for example—but Opal Island is anything but a too-derivative exercise. In its own understated way, the material draws the listener in, and its haunting pieces prove to be more memorable than expected.

April 2010