szilárd: Spokes
Palaver Press

szilárd's Spokes, Jeremy Young's first physical release as a solo performer following stints as a guitarist for the post-rock outfits (the) slowest runner and Sontag Shogun, is an arresting “conceptual tone-cycle” that incorporates text from Charles Baudelaire's 1857 work Les Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil). The forty-four-minute album presents five pieces within which spoken word passages alternate with intrumental episodes of varying character, with Young using drones built from sine and square sound waves to create a dramatic contrast to field recordings-based segments and sombre guitar- and piano-based passages. Though the thematic focus of the album centers upon dialogue and communication in four binary forms—man-nature, man-machines, nature-machines, and tones-tones—, the listener can elect to ponder the implications of that dimension or simply attend to the stimulating flow of the album's sound world.

As if designed to lure the listener into its unique realm, Young begins “Spokes 1111” with Baudelaire's words uttered softly by Catherine Métayer against a hissing backdrop suggestive of the seaside. It's an arresting moment but one that Young moves on from with dispatch by shifting the focus to a calming episode of electric guitar textures and then field recordings and assorted clamour of one kind or another. The faint meow of Young's now-deceased cat even shows up amidst the guitar and piano arpeggios and the streams of sound waves that otherwise dominate the setting's second half. Some of the album's most affecting moments come when Young strips the sound palette back to nothing more than the resonant tremolo of electric guitar playing (as occurs near the end of the opening piece). The opening track's episodic style is one that Young brings to the album as a whole, and it's a wise move as it prevents the music from getting bogged down for too long in any one place and keeps the listener alert in never knowing what might be around the next corner, so to speak. The twelve-minute opening piece is one of two long-form settings on the album (the other, “Spokes 33” is sixteen), but the album plays more like an uninterrupted flow of stitched-together miniature scenes of instrumental and spoken word passages.

A number of other things recommend the recording, too: Young's decision to use five different readers adds contrast and furthermore helps each recitation differentiate itself from the others, not just in terms of the text itself but also in terms of delivery; and the texts are generally short but are more memorable for being so, as the listener is never overwhelmed and exhausted by an overly long reading. It's the forlorn guitar episodes that embed themselves most powerfully in memory, however, in particular the slow-motion drift that appears after the speaking voice of Hidden Shoal artist Liam Singer in “Spokes 33” and the time-suspending meditation that follows Ella Joyce Buckley's reading in “Spokes 4” (during “Spokes 222,” Aki Onda's voice is heard against a beautifully sculpted backdrop of pealing electric guitar textures). Above all else, Young deserves praise for bringing such an arresting and original recording into being.

January 2012