Ned Milligan: Continental Burns
Though Continental Burns has been made available in digital form, its instrumental content lends itself best to a twelve-inch vinyl presentation, given that it splits neatly into halves: the five pieces on side A collectively constitute the score to the short film Continental Burns; the flip, on the other hand, is taken up by a single, long-form setting. This third album (issued in a 100-copy run) by the New York-based Milligan, who toils as an elementary school teacher by day, is, we're told, the first intended to reach an audience beyond family and friends, and its high quality certainly suggests it's capable of doing so.
Details are kept to a minimum, perhaps purposefully so; nothing about the instrumentation involved in the tracks' production appears on the album or inner sleeve, though a few production-related details are included. Milligan acknowledges, for example, that the first side's material “came out of [his] longstanding interest in repeating figures and loops of both musical and traditionally non-musical sound sources” and that the second side's nineteen-minute piece is an extended reworking of a track that first appeared on Rambler, his 2005 debut.
Even in the absence of instrument-related clarifications, it's immediately apparent that field recordings, samples, and musical instrument sounds (guitars and keyboards, if I'm not mistaken) form central parts of the sound mix. True to his word, Milligan roots the opening side's concise pieces in looping structures that give them a bit of a classical minimalism flavour. “Detritus / Geraldine and Her Apricot Tree” unspools at the controlled level of a grinding, low-pitched industrial murmur, whereas vestiges of classical minimalism lend rhythmic drive to the brightly twinkling “Mining the Miners.”As satisfying as the A-side pieces are, the album's coup de grace is “The Station in Spuyten Duyvil,” whose slow-burning tendrils extend across the entire second side. Even though Milligan apparently generated its skeletal soundworld using processed melodica only, it's no less captivating for having been created from a single instrument. He cites Stephan Mathieu as an influence on the meditative work's creation, and it's easy to draw a connecting line between the two when “The Station in Spuyten Duyvil” advances in such methodical, unhurried manner. Milligan's woozy dronescapes appeal in a number of different ways, but foremost among them is their uncluttered character. He's perfectly content to let a single sound intone for lengthy stretches, and the result proves arresting.