Review: Offthesky – ‘The Beautiful Nowhere’ (Hibernate Recordings)

Posted: June 11, 2011 in Reviews
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Multi-instrumentalist Jason Corder has a number of releases circulating around the netlabel scene and has also contributed to boutique labels such as Home Normal and SEM as Offthesky.  For ‘The Beautiful Nowhere’ he sought the solace of Carter Lake, near Colorado, recording in a cabin while taking inspiration from the beauty of the Appalachian scenery and culture, while revelling in its sense of isolation.  Much of this record is tied to a loose rule whereby Corder aimed to use as many acoustic instruments as possible around its ambient textures and fascinating found sounds.

‘The Beautiful Nowhere’ is a poetic release, intricate like a piece of origami.  A widescreen orchestra of acoustic instrumentation with everything from cello to harmonium, vibraphone to kalimba and violin to toy piano, skillfully stitched together in a pastoral, digital tapestry.  Corder’s understated guitar, be it acoustic or electric, plays a major role throughout and there’s a warm sense of comfort to his style, providing the basis of tracks such as ‘Now We’re Nowhere’ while he layers shimmering ambient textures and gorgeous chimes atop.  On the likes of ‘Melt and Wander’ he explores reverberations reminiscent of Robin Guthrie’s glistening guitar style, ‘The Lonesome Crowded Nest’ has similar six-string dynamics too, except on this occasion Corder adds cascading acoustic guitar and mournful cello, creating an immersive and evocative piece.

Ghostly vocal howls also add an air of mystery to this release, emphasising the sense of exile while integrating around the bucolic ambience and micro sounds purposefully peppered from beginning to end. On ‘Daydream Tarnation’, the album highlight in my mind, his maudlin, yet hopeful guitar progression knots itself around pretty, dissolving vocals, while other discordant sounds loom up in the background like a large rain cloud swallowing a blue sky.  It enchants, like a latter-day Labradford, which is a great thing round these parts.  ‘Whittling You Little Lights’ (featured below) is another example of this, a beautiful, nocturnal recording with distant insect or bird sounds, driven by softly picked acoustic guitar which peacefully mingles with pin-drop chimes and breathy, intermittent vocal. On the superb opening track ‘Surface of Your Sin’, Corder weaves a labyrinth of tribalistic sounds including muted percussion thumps, whistles and vibraphone around drifting vocals that are just beyond range.  The effect is somewhat beguiling in that it evokes a sense of space, while still adhering to the theme of solitude, bringing to mind mwvm’s  ‘Rotations’ LP.

A quietly fascinating record, where Corder’s intricately stitched sounds literally peel back as the record unfolds, revealing many hidden depths under its layers while transporting you straight to the surroundings which he took inspiration from.  A number of releases in the ambient/electroacoustic movement require a degree of endurance from the listener, but on ‘The Beautiful Nowhere’ it’s an effortless pleasure from start to finish.   Beautiful in name and beautiful in nature in more ways than one.

‘The Beautiful Nowhere’ will be issued by Hibernate Recordings on Limited Edition Vinyl and Limited Edition CD with Handmade Packaging

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