Olan Mill: Pine

Serein = serene. That very well could be the equation wafting through one's thoughts while listening to the label's latest outing Pine by Olan Mill collaborators Alex Smalley and Svitlana Samoylenko. That the album was recorded inside a small church also seems wholly apropos, given the oft-hymnal quality of its ten instrumentals. Olan Mill's music exists midway between natural and electronic spheres—it's natural enough for identifiable violin and piano sounds to be heard clearly, yet electronic enough for source materials to assume an abstract quality. What partially accounts for the heavenly character of the group's music is the duo's tendency to treat its material with heavy doses of reverb. The effect is most evident during the album's closing piece, “Flume,” where Olan Mill stretches wisps of guitar- and piano-generated sounds into delicate ambient-drone vapours.

“Spare Smoke Template” inaugurates the collection with three minutes of celestial tranquility, after which the merest trace of a piano melody floats amidst ethereal layers of ambient stillness during “Country” in a way that suggests one could legitimately see Olan Mill as kindred spirits to Stars of the Lid—at least until the piece's dying moments when that piano part briefly becomes a more fully-formed presence. In “The Prescribed Individual,” untreated piano playing is joined by string playing that wouldn't sound out of place on an Arvo Pärt recording, while “Disempowered” is as pretty as it is heavenly, especially when its violin and piano parts sing so harmoniously.

Unusual for music of its type, the tracks on Pine are generally short, some little more than vignettes—no twenty-minute soundscapes for these two. That can sometimes produce an odd effect, especially when the music moves ever so slowly but then only does so for the shortest of distances. But though everything moves at the slowest tempo possible, the results are hardly displeasing; Olan Mill's music exudes a calm demeanour that's comforting in the most welcome sense of the word. Analogically, it's the kind of sound one could equate with the peaceful resignation that is said to characterize a dying person's last moments.

June 2010