...that city is a liar – Sketches For Albinos
I’ve never been to Reykjavik. As far as I’m concerned, it may not exist. The sound of it alone makes me think of a Risk board. It might well be one of those oblong territories with an unpronounceable name somewhere in the Eurasian continent that gets neglected for the bulk of the game until your brother inexplicably launches a Napoleonic assault from within its humble, frosty borders. From what I’ve heard, though, it’s actually in Iceland. This, however, does not change the fact that if I ever travel there, it will surely be in a ship rowed by bearded men across a partially frozen sea, armed for battle with serpents, and guided only by the stars and the allure of the northern lights.
This is, at least, the impression I get from the bulk of Icelandic post-rock happening today, and the music of Sketches For Albinos (AKA Matthew Collings) is no exception. In the glacial wake of Bjork, Sigur Ros, and Mum, Collings has fashioned an intimate debut full of these same hyperboreal mythos, but with a touch of spring-thaw. Sweeping guitar and delicate glockenspiel are par for the course, but rather than trudging forward in the epic, pan-tundra manner of his fellow countrymen, Collings keeps it simple. His is not a timeless soundscape, and however spacious and cinematic as it may be, it is rather timely. Born from a process of "making tapes and attempting to record with things [he] didn’t understand, ...that city is a liar comes off as a sort of photo album, or sketchbook if you will. Each track is a momentary snapshot, lasting only long enough to capture the most salient feature within its field of vision. These are fleeting moments, unrefined and emotive — leftover breeze at the end of a storm.
Tracks like "Cloud with Rabbithead" and "The Man Who Was October" are a wash of understated guitars and keyboards. Momentous but never narrative, it’s textural motion that stirs Collings’ musical landscapes; only rarely will a glimmer of melody present itself. While not necessarily lyrical, there is a vocal quality to these sonic collages, and as a voice is prone to emerge from each texture, the tracks function as patient chorales. They are impressionistic glances, successful to the degree that their permutations restrict themselves to geologic intervals, while at times corrupted by the insertion of harsh synthetics and found dialogue. "Subway Demo" calls to mind acoustic Pink Floyd, and with his addition of gentle, affected vocals, it seems Collings may have more in common with American psych-rockers Animal Collective and Akron/Family than his Icelandic brethren. But unlike Akron, et al, Collings’ experimentations trail off before they can generate that ecstatic pulse. This is not a shortcoming however, as in "Tanzen Als Gabe Es Kein Morgen," with his balance of the sweet against the discordant, the mood is simply more primordial than primal.
As for the glockenspiels, they are not alone. On more indie-sensible tracks like "Haruki," there is a smattering of hand claps, glee-club "da-da," and even slurping straws. This, in turn, anchors what could otherwise be an overly ethereal outing. And, going against the generally melancholic grain of current post-rockers, it is in these flourishes that Collings infuses a touch of optimism. Snippets of recorded conversation are worked in at various points in the album, with mixed results, but on "Thank God Everything’s Complicated" a looped and panning voice sums everything up rather nicely. "I have the feeling I have sometimes that I’m right where I’m right now." It’s not a bad place to be, and easier to reach than I may have initially assumed.