RL/VL: Chagrin
Hidden Shoal

Remarkably, Belfast, Northern Ireland-based electronic composer Jack Hamill was only eighteen when he produced Chagrin, a seventy-minute collection issued under the RL/VL guise (the term an acronym for Real Life/Virtual Life). Generated using analogue synths, tape machines, old cassettes, computer, and toys, the lo-fi ambient style Hamill presents on the album is considerably more sophisticated in conception than what one would expect from one so young (as it turns out, Hamill's Hidden Shoal debut was preceded by releases on Acroplane and Sounds Asleep Recordings).

Chagrin's richly detailed landscapes threaten to recede from view when played at mid-volume but assert themselves more strongly when heard through headphones. Textural sounds are magnified and musical elements are filtered through dense blankets, rendering them corroded and industrial in character. The album's thirteen pieces are typically unassuming, retiring settings that on melodic terms aren't leagues removed from Eno's ambient material. What differentiates Hamill's music from others is the way in which he muffles the sound by smothering it in layers of gauzy textures and semi-industrial noise (to such a degree in “Cedar Point” that the track seems ready to dissolve). Despite the music's abstract character, natural settings are often suggested by individual tracks: “Four Piece Suite” combines the distant rumble of a factory and the echoing shudder of melody fragments, while “Kweens” sounds like an organ meditation played underwater and “Portrush” a set of bells chiming from the center of a forest. Oscillating chords ripple through “Double Bed Sleep Pain Away – Part One” and “A Lake You Could Walk On,” producing slow dazzles capable of inducing entrancement. Like B&W photographs of bucolic scenery growing progressively fainter over time, Chagrin's shimmering vistas resonate as memory traces that often seem on the verge of vanishing.

May 2009