Richard Skelton: Landings

Much of Richard Skelton's work has appeared on his own Sustain-Release label, which began life as a dedication to his late wife, Louise. So if there's a palpably emotive dimension to his work, no one should be taken aback. A powerfully mournful quality definitely permeates Landings, his second album under his own name and his follow-up to 2008's Marking Time (originally released on Preservation and reissued on vinyl by Type). The material on the seventy-minute release draws upon instrumental folk and neo-classical traditions, the former evident in the music's acoustic and rustic qualities and the latter present in its instrumentation (bowed-strings, violin, piano) and classical counterpoint. Naked and open-hearted, the compositions are often rooted in melodic counterpoint, with strings weaving into formations that turn hypnotic through insistence. An oceanic design asserts itself in arrangements where lulling cross-patterns of string elements rock to and fro, and where at times a lead voice will rise above the whole to intone its emotive refrain before returning back into the mass—qualities directly acknowledged in the choice of “Undertow” for a track title.

Representative of the album's tone, “Noon Hill Wood” and “River Song” are meditations coloured by a mournful ebb and flow of keening string melodies, and a rustic quality in the sawing of the strings. In the immersive “Threads Across The River,” strings draw the listener into its enraptured universe, while a haunted quality pervades “Voice of the Book,” something perhaps attributable to the fact that Skelton recorded it in a centuries-old farmhouse. The album's centerpiece nudges the work in the direction of ambient soundscaping, as clouds of reverberant bowed sounds swell into a swirling mass of strings and ominous knocking noises. Landings is anything but cloistered music originating out of a sterilized studio environment but is rather music borne from nature; subtle traces of the rural landscape appear (the calls of birds and crows, for instance), a hazy mist of reverb coats the material, and nowhere is the music's connection to the rustic realm rendered more explicit than in “Green Withins Brook” when Skelton plays a concertina by the side of a stream on a winter morning. A subtle hint of psychedelia seeps into the material (during the guitar-heavy “Remaindered,” for example) at times but the oft-stirring Landings is hardly psychedelic-folk. (The release also is available in a double-vinyl edition that includes a bonus CD containing the twenty-minute long “Riftmusic.”)

February 2010