Luke Abbott: Wysing Forest (Border Community)
Luke Abbott has seemed to fly slightly under the radar relative to his Border Community partners in crime, James Holden and Nathan Fake. Abbott has been exploring similar terrain for the last several years, and on a somewhat similar trajectory to that of his cohorts, veering progressively more and more into the fringes of modular synthesis and exploring that sliver of the venn diagram in which it overlaps with leftfield dance music. Compared to his last album, where many tracks established some solid middle ground between those elements, Wysing Forest begins with a prolonged intro of meandering synthesis and effects before evolving into a wistful, disorienting slow groove, never quite dancefloor compatible but instead letting his synths guide the flow of the track rather than a regular rhythm kit most of the time. When drums do enter the picture, they are plodding and slow, more mannered and darker than one might expect if they’ve heard Abbott’s previous œuvre. Like Holden’s The Inheritors album from last year, Abbott has almost abandoned traditional dancefloor conventions for something more wild, more singular. The improvisational element to the album conjures up visions of Abbott’s home studio in Wysing to be an untamed forest of wonders, ideas growing organically like tendrils in the wild. It shouldn’t be surprising then to hear that Abbott himself has made this music with a nod to the jazz of artists like Don Cherry and Alice Coltrane. It’s a surprisingly moving affair, starting off sublimely with the wandering synth atmospheres of “Two Degrees” and then “Amphis.” The latter is the clear star of the show, in both its elaborate twelve-and-a-half-minute treatment and then as an eight-minute closer. It’s a gorgeous and patient piece of music, combining his unusual percolating rhythms with sweeping pads.
“Unfurling” is a curious smattering of blips and bulbous synths, sort of a palate cleanser for “Free Migration,” a galloping cascade of square triplets and white noise snares. This galloping syncopation continues in “Highrise,” but “Tree Spirit” breaks the trend with zipping, undulating, detuned synths and zaps. “The Balance of Power” re-introduces rhythm, but again it’s in undulating arps of kicks and pulses that are less typical of dance music.
They work well to underpin the sea of synth pads that ebb and flow overhead, feeling like a full circle reprise of the full-bodied sound of “Amphis” that really got things moving in the first place. Abbott treats us to an epilogue that is a beatless reprise of “Amphis” then as his closing statement, which might seem on paper to be a lazy choice, but it couldn’t have worked out better soundwise. Stripping away the modular synth noodling of his rhythm section, “Amphis”’s pads are allowed to just glide beautifully and tragically. While Abbott is still referencing some of the pastoral obliqueness of artists like Boards of Canada in his dreamy pads and sensibility, and the improvisational spirit of his jazz heroes comes through, the most kindred spirit that comes to mind is Holden, with the album echoing the same untamed synthesis sprawl of his The Inheritors. And yet while Abbott is clearly in good company amongst Holden and Fake, he stands alone by virtue of the serene surrealism that characterizes so much of his chords and atmospheres. Recommended listening.