Last Days: Satellite

Graham Richardson's Last Days project is as consistent with respect to quality as the n5MD label on which it appears and has appeared since its 2006 inception (with the release of the debut album Sea). Satellite, Richardson's fourth album under the name, picks up where its predecessor, 2009's The Safety of the North, left off—not in terms of carrying on its storyline but in terms of fashioning a narrative for its fourteen pieces. Not that anyone need familiarize him/herself with the associated story in order to enjoy the ride, however: Satellite holds up just fine if one chooses to attend to it as a collection of distinct pieces rather than as ones constituting a narrative. And for that matter, whatever story Richardson conceived for the album is more alluded to than explicitly laid out, that allusiveness reinforced by the fact that Satellite is almost entirely instrumental.

Many of the fourteen pieces are in the two-to three-minute range and thus assume a rather vignette-like quality; the extreme exception to that rule is the penultimate setting, “To The Sky,” a dramatic, slow-building soundscape that checks in at a comparatively epic eleven minutes. Elegant piano melodies drift through desolate, rain-soaked landscapes, with an occasional field recording (birds, water, trains) or voice sample included to augment the instrumental interplay; guitars appear both as texture (electric guitar fuzz in the title track) and as a source of melody, and glockenspiel accents brighten the scenery in places, too (“Nepenthe”). The tracks vary in mood and character, with some melodic (“Theme,” a luscious scene-painting overture sprinkled with strings and piano cascades), some stately (the title track), and others presenting themselves as dark moodscapes (“Escape Velocity”). Without question, the prettiest piece, not to mention the most immediately accessible one, is “New Transmissions,” a lilting, pop-styled reverie graced by a serenading vocal from Beth Arzy (Aberdeen, Trembling Blue Stars).

Stylistically, the material centers on electroacoustic instrumentals so evocative they enable the listener to effortlessly conjure visual correlates. Though Richardson's music is largely digital in origin and in construction, it doesn't lack for human feeling. It is this emotional dimension, in fact, that most strongly argues on behalf of the project. While the album material does encompass a broad range of emotion, loneliness and melancholy do admittedly prevail, a tendency that gives a Satellite piece such as “Ghosts of Winter” a plaintive and often wistful tone. In that regard, the achromatic wintry landscape adorning the cover makes for an especially apt choice for the recording.

November 2013