Monday, April 22, 2013

Dave Stafford (2) Dreamtime and Sky Full of Stars

In my ongoing introduction to the works of Dave Stafford, 2 more albums - I am not reviewing in either chronological order, nor the order of my discovery, but rather in pairs that work together. These two albums belong together in my mind for structural and musical reasons, as well as being recent releases. 

We'll start with Dreamtime which is actually by Scorched by the sun and was released in January this year through bandcamp. SBTS is Dave Stafford with Bryan Helm - and while this is the first release by this 'group' Stafford and Helm go way back to 1989 where as alumni of guitar craft they formed The dozey lumps and Luxury yacht (1 album a piece) but more significantly formed Bindlestiff which released 6 albums in the 90s. These albums are well sampled on the 2 free pureambient compilations available on the site, and vary in ambience and intensity, but all very listenable. 

For various reasons there was a musical hiatus, but eventually Bryan sent Dave a link to a site with 12 pieces in it (as noted by David Byrne in his book, transcontinental collaborations are now able to spawn news ways of working). The basis for an album! When he started to work on the pieces, adding his layers, Dave initially fell back on his role as the guitarist in the duo (Bryan was keyboards) but it didn't work. And then he realised that his m-tron mellotron e-synth would work perfectly. He then set to work adding his parts (he has hinted that a bonus release of his and Bryan's components) to the 12 tracks, all bar some piano on the first part, played using the m-tron; then adding a mellotron solo in the middle of the album, and mixing the tracks so that the 11 'seams' are, while not invisible, at least not obvious and so the track unfolds as a single mutating and modulating piece. And it does work very well - this is true furniture-music {coincidence - while looking at the pureambient site I came across a single of a cover of Bill Nelson's furniture music: my reference here was of course to the original Satie quote} ambient where you can have it as background music but that repays closer listening. The album opens with an active ambient piece and closes with vocal tones singing a melody to layered synths. In between there are layers of drones and loops, notes and sounds drift through the mix - a descending riff, a call, some atonal, edgy loops - a mellotron flute, the satisfying intermission solo. And while each is part is an ambient gem, as they are sewn together to make a complex quilt the album becomes a complete experience that is more than the sum. Other than for musicological reasons, or that old faithful completism, I don't think the two halves of the album should be released as it is the combination that works (my first though was, hey yeah, that could be interesting, but I changed my mind).

Fast backwards to 2011 and Dave releases Sky Full of Stars. This was my fourth purchase, bought because it was described as a mellotron album - all keyboards (and bought before Dreamtime). While many of his releases are guitar/loop based I seem to be jumping about sampling his whole range (the looping will be in the next review). But when I first played it I was a little confounded - I had expected Epitaph-like flute or choral tones, the sort of things that bought 60s & 70s progrock to life! But here were long held tones layered, building density and texture. And then I was dumbfounded as, as I said to Dave in a two word review, it is simply beautiful. What the synth retains from the original is a warmth and depth of tone - and apparently you can recapture the sound of the original as Dave has used those on Dreamtime and Gone native. These pieces almost glow, and I have played them through my sound system to gain the full value from the tones. In New day dawning the deep resonances give a solid quality to the sounds. Elsewhere the tones pulse, drift, ring and just sing: there is also a sense of stately majesty throughout the album. There are tunes - The other half of your soul has a melody dancing slowly over the drones - and long evolving pieces (the title track is almost 18minutes based around some delightful backward tones - the shorter pieces tend to be more active). But if you like tonal drifting keyboard ambience with occasional pulsing, you will love this: as with many great albums it is really indescribable. Other than Simply beautiful

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