Understated Theory: Juxtapparition
Sparkwood Records

Understated Theory is an apt choice of moniker for this project involving Colin Crighton and Tom Moore, considering the overall restrained touch the two bring to their hour-long debut album under the group name. But the music they craft sidesteps possible accusations of one-dimensionality by also venturing into louder territory on the release. Stylistically speaking, there are moments on Juxtapparition that suggest post-rock would be a likely choice of category, but here, too, such a portrayal would be incomplete. The two not only largely eschew drums on the album's ten tracks but also gravitate towards a determinedly atmospheric form of ambient-electronica.

On this full-length follow-up to their earlier 2015 EP Critical Drift, Crighton and Moore demonstrate their talents as soundsculptors from the moment “Where Chaos Sleeps” inaugurates the recording's dream-like conglomeration of hazy electric guitar strums, synthetic keyboard textures, and field recording details. Battered by corroded fragments, a flickering swarm of treated guitars ebbs and flows throughout “White Fields,” resulting in one of the album's trippiest deep space excursions. Understated Theory's music exhales like some sleepy colossus as it threads a path through dense, drifting fields of phase-treated guitars and sweeping sheets of glassy, metallic textures. At times haunting and ethereal, the music plunges into deep ambient waters, flirting with psychedelia at one moment and vaporous soundscaping the next.

In the first three pieces, the duo's music seems so heavily committed to the ambient side of things that the appearance of a straight-ahead beat in “Look Right Through You” comes as a bit of a shock, and with breathy vocals and electric guitar melodies also included, the track grows into the most accessible of the ten pieces presented. But an even greater shock arrives in the subsequent track, “Mirrors,” when the stabbing guitars work their way up to a climactic snarl that threatens to detonate before a decompression brings the music down to a molten simmer. More characteristic of the album are “Decoy,” where guitars are used to generate a heatstroke-inducing mirage of hallucinatory strums and washes, and the sprawling soundscape “Sepia.” One final surprise comes when “See the Sun Within” makes an unexpected stop at a backcountry roadhouse for a crooning cowboy cameo before resuming its electronic journey.

All things considered, Juxtapparition is a pretty impressive debut. Theirs is not the most original sound or innovative project, but Crighton and Moore bring a lot of poise and assurance to this maiden Understated Theory voyage, and there's much to recommend about this wide-ranging collection.

November 2015