Prepare yourselves to dive into a wealth of sound, for this album I’m about to introduce is a journey of multiple episodes. Learn more about this ambient guitar-powered release and the masterminds behind it!
Today’s artist is At Swim, a duo of long-time friends Ben Ackland and Paul Gathercole. Mates since primary school, the duo has released music before as AGK, putting out an album in 2005 titled “The Liking of Things”. Then, after a long time of silence, newfound joy for improvising and long immersive recording sessions led to the formation of At Swim, the project with the heart of fretless bass and guitar. Atmospheric flowing music branching out and into the memories.
Inspired by a variety of established soundsmiths like Brian Eno, Can and David Sylvian, At Swim use the best of what improvisation can offer, giving time and space to allow the formation of new worlds, slow and majestic or intimate and stripped down, and always shifting in form. Long strings of melancholic moods interweaving with the echoing layers of melodies create an endless floating soundscape to journey into, abstract layered music at its finest. At Swim also offered their own introduction to their music:
“Listeners should expect music that is to some degree meditative because its genesis is in meditative improvisation sessions; but sometimes with an edge as we like to explore the darkness, not only the light. Sometimes blissful ambient, sometimes unsettling ambient.”At Swim
At Swim has released quite a handful of music so far, each offering an own sonic world encapsulated under an album title. Their newest release is a journey back to their childhood spent growing up in SE18, the area of London. Yap, that’s the title for today’s album!
The album, slightly eerie in its remembrance, begins the journey with asyncopated drums and guitar plucks enveloped in a warm humid atmosphere in “Face(s)”, which then fades into droning quietness before reappearing in almost alien sounds of “Tide and Time”. This one (and most of the album, really) strongly reminds me of a Submachine game by Mateusz Skutnik, also a great man putting memories and references into ethereal machine-built lands floating in the endless dark. Sweet guitar notes in this part, too!
Sinking into “Oxleas”, this feels like home reassembled from fragmented bits of thoughts. The striking levels of warmth in the flowing background is infectious. “Isle of Grain” brings forth a huge soundscape laced with little specks of sound dust forming textures in the vastness.
The echoing “Dior in SE18” is an almost formless cloud at first before finding a little pattern and flowing along it. Sparse guitar notes and a slice of vocal sample transform this song into an ethereal experience, something like an afterlife even. The next track to follow is a little bit of an opposite, bringing us back on earth and to the beach. Slow guitar and bass notes form the ambience as seabirds fly and chatting people pass by.
“Lee Side Drift” flows higher above the ground, featuring purring noises. With very little this song gains a slightly festive tone. The next song, “Trust” enters the head with gentle quiet sounds switching channels in vast soundscape that feels light purple to me, at least until that massive droning bass joins, turning this track into pleasing combination of textures.
“Ashes in a Saltwater Pool” gathers layers of waving granular sounds and warm shifting guitar reforming its own sound under the big quietness. That is followed by the guitar appearing in front stage, reversing, plucking rhythmic formations, layering itself and echoing in “Heywood”.
Slowly sliding bass becomes the carrying current in “Awake”, in some ways soothing, in other ways very much haunted. “Fieldwork” takes the haunting aspect further, running on top of an omnipresent sense of immediacy interlaced with meditative thoughts. The song then disassembles to leap into floating vastness.
Running under the constant layer of haze like a blocked mind, “Always in Doubt” is a different quietness forming echoed sound sculptures and sampled voice slices. That layer takes on a much eerier tone in “Wraiths”, forming an extraterrestrial signal running through big reverbed guitar tones, which then fades out to give way to the final track of the album – “A Sense of Things to Come”. Beginning stripped down, featuring a muted guitar melody and a weaving sound, it slowly gathers more layers of tones and textures. The feeling in this one is held back and pensive, yet in some sort of way positive in its appearance.
“There’s a few little interesting samples and voices in the album which represent some of our interests. You might hear Kate Bush, David Sylvian, Boy George, or samples from Bauhaus or even London drill artists 38 x Alz, as well as environmental recordings from the Thames Estuary.”
Formed from the echoed thoughts, SE18 is an ambient album, hugely immersive and beautifully crafted. A wonderful release to just sink into in the calm rainy evenings. It’s certainly a great album for people to drift into dreamland to, but it being rich with textured soundscapes makes SE18 an enjoyable listen for daydreamers and sound lovers looking for earfondling sonic experiences.
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