I guess we have all experienced occasions when strange events or word-of-mouth led us to something of cherished value? In terms of' 'uncharted' records, I’ll never forget the strange journey that led me to check in at the Neutral Milk Hotel or indeed my first ever Walk Across the Rooftops with The Blue Nile. Such moments, when they do come along, leave a lasting impression in terms of both listening pleasure and the thrill of reflecting upon the fortuitous path that guided us. Last Days is a case in point. A delicate mélange of minimal electronica and lo-fi that I might never have happened upon were it not for blindly chancing upon the wonderful, Californian experimental label, n5MD.
Sea is the single vision of writer/producer Graham Richardson and represents, to quote Richardson, a "fascination with remote and isolated places". The recurrent narrative theme, we understand, is that of a misguided voyager, who sails north seeking an abandonment of responsibility. It is a journey that embraces solitude and self-reflection before bringing difficulty, danger and rescue.
We begin where most albums might end - a reflective piece of ambience usually reserved for a closing track or trail-out. Here instead, it is stretched and explored over 14 tracks, each piece gratifyingly distinct, yet each a marker buoy on the same oceanic vista. The use of conventional guitars and percussion to augment the gentle electronics gives a textural feel to the record. As fans of genre luminaries Yellow 6 or Port-Royal might attest, this can often provide the added warmth so often absent from over-digitized recordings.
An early example of such guitar and software synergy comes in the form of The Safest Place, the perfect accompaniment to leaving shore and watching the landscape slowly disappear from view. Our compasses are set and our course charted… for solitude, tranquility and all the mixed emotions those places bring.
While at times unashamedly dolorous, there are no doldrums on this Sea. The central movement of the album, from the Harold Budd-esque Mountains to the joyful I remember when you were good, is anything but becalmed. Saltwater is a playful tease on Moby’s God moving… and the stunning Your Birds recalls the godfather of effects, Robin Guthrie’s Elemental.
Last Days allow us to share a uniquely personal odyssey. Although the Sea in question represents a very physical place, the album also works as an inward voyage, a meditation or a Dream sea. Our protagonist may be experiencing something profoundly personal and enlightening but these are easily recognizable yearnings that resonate within us all.
Yet the overriding impression is one of optimism. Last days can only give way to new beginnings. So it is that Sea represents neither death nor doom but rather change. And since change is the only constant in our entire lives, it could therefore follow that Sea just might become the soundtrack of our existence.
Boring Machines Disturbs Sleep
There is a staggering amount of quality artists coming out of the UK at the moment, especially in the underground electronica and ambient scenes. Groups such as Epic45, July Skies, Yellow6 and D_rRadio all seem to be on the same wavelength and have being creating tranquil soundscapes for a good few years now. These bands combine elements of post-rock, shoegaze and down-tempo electronica and have the ability to mesmerise with the slightest chord change or with innovative drum patterns.
Now add Edinburgh based musician Graham Richardson, aka Last Days, to this list. Here is another artist who creates dream-like pieces that don't strike you immediately, but instead intentionally creep up on you before absorbing into your consciousness.
Signed to the pioneering n5md label (Bitcrush, Loess, Preom etc), Last Days debut "Sea", is a triumphant release that brings to mind the work of Pan American, The Dead Texan and Port-Royal.
Of course, with easy access to technology these days, ambient albums are 'ten an penny', and it does take something unique to truly stand out. Much like Helios' "Eingya" album, Last Days uses many instruments (guitar; glockenspiel; accordian ; percussion) and mixes it with human aspects of sound to create tracks full of blissful ambient haze.
There is also a loose narrative for the album, which deals with "the fascination with remote and isolated places". Each track charts the progress of a character that is disillusioned with life at home, and chooses to escape to another land on a small boat.
After a short album opener, things get underway with "The Safest Place". This is a very apt name for the song, as warmly strummed acoustic guitars are introduced and mixed with melancholic strings, before a gorgeous piano melody takes the lead. An almost classical piece, it conveys the hope one would get when setting of to a new place.
"Two Steps Back" follows, with a slow building tempo and pulsing bassline, the character is well and truly at "Sea" here , as apprehension and uncertainty sets in.
Things take a turn for the worse on our character's journey, if "Arriving At Jan Mayen" is anything to go by. This sparse song is a very unsettling experience featuring drones and weird chanting, quite similar to Aphex Twin's darker ambient moments
The beautiful tones of the glockenspiel help to restore some light during, next track, "Mountains". It is in such tracks, that Last Days truly excels. He has a knack of producing slow burning melodies that help lull you into a state of calm.
The stand-out track, though, of this release is "Your Birds". Amazingly, this was a last minute inclusion on the album. The first real hint of substantial percussion elements can be heard here, and they are reminiscent of Sigur Ros' "Glossoli". The song contains a gradual, but over-powering melody that makes you want to listen to it time after time.
"I Remember When You Were Good" returns to the same feel, as opener "The Safest Place", as the hypnotic piano line, portrays Last Days' subtle skills and instrumentation. " Fear", uses more instruments than most of the other tracks, as our character is coming towards the end of his journey. Again. it is full of slow changes and melodic structures that soon leads to a triumphant finale, as the character's fear is soon over-powered by a sense of hope in what lies ahead.
The journey comes to an end during "All The Lighthouses", as the character tries to make sense of his approaching new surroundings. Contemplative piano notes clash with lonely wind sounds, as the character begins a future of uncertainty in his new surroundings.
Last Days' "Sea" is a challenging release that offers something new on each listen. Its strengths lie in its subtleties and variations from piano led pieces throught to the ambient rock of "Your Birds". The album is intended to be listened as a whole, rather in seperate tracks. After a few listens, though, the subtle chord changes, static noises, muffled beats and strummed guitars soon start to become familiar, making this a very warm release.
"Sea" is an album, that requires you absorb it slowly, keeping with its gradual and tranquil tempo, while taking in its blissful majesty. It will be released by n5md on September 12th.
The cover art to Sea depicts the final wooden post on a misty, murky shore as the voyager slips anchor to ride out into the waters. The metaphor behind Graham Richardson’s work as Last Days is obviously a journey of self-reflection through solitude – departing the bounded shores of life. A nice ideology, reflected by 14 tracks of floating ambient music, more in-tune with Budd and Eno than your modern-day ambient glitch artists, evident by the fact that few of the tracks stray too far from their original concept from the first bar to the last.
A selection of tracks, the first being The Safest Place, use gentle guitar strains to add a further sense of acoustic warmth and humanity; twinkling piano also leaves its mark. The ghostly Snowing uses a background sample of an off-the-hook telephone to depict Richardson’s demand for seclusion, as the production is swarmed by stacked, ashen synths.
Richardson certainly summons up some vaporous atmospheres, ably penetrating the imagination - and there’s also variation from track to track. Arriving At Jan Mayhen is cold, eerie and harsh, the following Mountains twinkling with Glockenspiel-style melodies, swaying between mournful and despairing moments into clearer realms.
One of my favourite tracks is undoubtedly Nightlight, a beautiful instrumental that welds fuzzy guitars very skilfully and effectively to a sumptuous, plodding bassline and emotive synths. Vocals could have really brought this track into another realm altogether; it almost seems wasteful, as the backing is so strong here. Fear is another delicious effort with its emotive acoustic guitar a constant beneath melodious keys and dulcet beats – you definitely sense the emergence of clearer waters, although All The Lighthouse leaves treads one last dark footstep, using the sound of a muffled, harsh wind quite brilliantly to get it’s vibe across.
Sea takes a while to get into, at first certain passages seem a little one-dimensional, but it all fits together like a jigsaw and becomes a lot more memorable after several plays. Sad, yes, depressing, not quite, but certainly emotionally charged, Sea is brought to fruition with an honesty and deftness of touch that will certainly leave its mark on you if you allow it.
A fine record - the sort that can bring new respect to a label.
Within the past ten years, the US has become a real hub of electronica. Quality labels and talented artists have made America a home for computer music. One label that has been a forerunner in producing great electronic music in the States is n5MD. The imprint was born with technology and music in mind. The label’s name is emblematic of this. n5MD did not start off with CD's or vinyl, but with a totally new medium: the minidisc. The label's name, n5MD, stands for No Fives, Mini Discs. This compact, futuristic format was what the label chose to put out its first release on, the MD1 Compilation. The compilation, in its pocket size shape, was a merging of micro-media and sound with artists like Arovane and Quench involved. Soon n5MD had set itself up as one of the top labels of US electronic music. The label skipped from format to format, producing music on vinyl, CD and minidisc but always releasing digital music of deep emotion and feeling. Yet, the minidisc, sadly, died - thankfully n5MD did not go the same way as the latter half of its name. The label sought out new talent, bringing names like ML and Proem to a larger audience. n5MD gave the electronic music community a solid stream of superb IDM but encouraged experimentation, letting its artists test the waters with new, and old, equipment. It is with this in mind that n5MD offer up their latest CD release, Sea by Last Days (a.k.a. Graham Richardson).
Sea is a meshing of the electric and the acoustic. Richardson employs strings, gentle chords and lulling beats to create harmonious soundscapes that are light but deep. The album opens with "Leaving Home," a piece that drones into life on ripples of sound. The track hazily develops, stretching and yawning into being before quickly ending. This opener is a taster of what this relaxing and ambient album will be like. Richardson follows down the road he has laid with "Leaving Home" with "The Safest Place," a string centered track with soothing chords and keys. A terrifically beautiful work, demonstrating how the contrasting mediums of electronic and acoustic can come together in perfect harmony. "Two Steps Back" is a much more computer generated work, but maintains the abstract, overwashing ambience of Sea. This track is a gentle pulling and tugging at computer sounds, a heaving to and fro of softly contorted melodies with touching keys once more playing an important role. Down the line, "Arriving at Jan Mayen" reflects and refracts "Two Steps Back," another resonating, haunting, echoing piece. But in this work, Last Days illustrates the eerie estrangement which electronic music is capable of; the dissociating sound that computers can create. Warmth returns to the record with "Mountians" and its opening of soft luscious keys as peaceful xylophonic drips slip through a net of sound. The album maintains a laid back, relaxing sound throughout; be that it sounds more electronic or acoustic the melodies remain dreamy and atmospheric. "I Remember When You were Good" is a piano-centered track of warm keys that echo and resonate behind a curtain of sound. "The Norwegian Sea" opens with a lulling bass, an overture that sluggishly develops as low clicks simmer through subtle strings to create a hazy lush soundscape; a wonderfully isolated track. "Fear" moves the listener towards the final furlong of this debut release. Another acoustic composition, this time introduced by soft guitar strings. Low and gentle, light beats swim and sail through the track to create an upbeat, yet darkly sombre, work. This warm loving track ambles along, edging beautifully to its climax before fading away to a faint glow and receding back behind the speakers.
Sea is an excellent debut piece by a talented young artist. The album's name, Sea, mirrors the style Richardson employs. A dreamlike, gentle, yet undeniably powerful, sound forever moving and reforming. Richardson utilises both the electronic and acoustic, blending them seamlessly into a rich audio scenario. Sea is an album full of emotion, full of beauty, full of darkness. Sea is an album that is as stark as it is rich, it is Richardson's manipulation of this disparity that makes his debut LP such an intoxicated suspension of sound.
Last Days' Sea is the perfect soundtrack to that late-night hour when the crimson sky slowly fades into total darkness. Elegiac, introspective, and hypnotic, Graham Richardson's melancholy music represents a departure of sorts for n5MD whose releases are rarely so uniformly quiet and reflective. The Edinburgh, Scotland-based producer assembles his ‘lo-fi' material using digital means but camouflages the music's electronic character by purposefully degrading it. The vignette “Saltwater,” for example, literally sounds as if it's originating from beneath the water's surface.
Put simply, this is a collection filled with beautiful moments, like the guitars that moan through the meditative “Two Steps Back,” the glockenspiel chime that illuminates “Mountains,” and the delicate piano melody in “The Safest Place” that's so blurred and out-of-focus, it suggests a long-suppressed melody that unexpectedly returns to consciousness. Though its title portends otherwise, “Fear” turns out to be the most uplifting moment on the record, an uptempo song of gracefully mounting euphoria that turns its face towards the new day's sun with joyous expectation. Apparently, Sea's ‘escape' theme is intimated by song titles that reference a disillusioned soul who flees society on a boat, gets lost, and is ultimately rescued. Such details are frankly incidental, however, as Last Days' instrumental material makes its case strongly in the absence of such background info. Sea is a long, drawn-out, and deeply affecting sigh that should strongly appeal to fans of Eluvium and Deaf Center.
Pour beaucoup d’entre nous, Last Days c’est un film de Gus Van Sant parlant des derniers jours d’une rock star célèbre, blond, portant des converses, gaucher et de Seattle…
Et bientôt pour vous qui lisez cet article, Last Days sera aussi le nom sous lequel se cache un certain Graham Richardson.
On n’en saura pas beaucoup plus et à vrai dire ce n’est pas réellement nécessaire.
Sous cette pochette brumeuse et joliment ornée de clichés particulièrement réussi se dissimule un album d’un intimité déconcertante et envoutante – non, les deux ne sont pas forcément antinomiques…
L’histoire de ‘Sea’ a commencé lorsque Graham Richardson a décidé en 2000 de s’acheter un ordinateur. Un micro et une guitare branchée et l’album prenait forme petit à petit. Quelques nappes de clavier, quelques touches de piano, un son ambient capturé par le micro (pas de chant ici) et des accords langoureux, la musique de Last Days est claustrophobique et instrospectif.
Il y a une beauté fragile dans cette douleur latente. Bien sûr elle ne sera perceptible de suite, il faudra tomber dans le ravin et comprendre l’univers de Last Days pour vraiment en saisir toute la subtilité.
Malgré tout cette mer est une mer où l’on ne se noit pas, on flotte et on dérive. C’est peut-etre ca finalement la vraie douleur.
As his portentous-sounding recording moniker suggests, Graham Richardson isn’t exactly there for the most lighthearted moments in life. This debut album on the ever-reliable n5MD label certainly comes across as one of the most cinematic and evocative releases that it’s put out in a while, with the 14 tracks on Seaapparently geared around the theme of a person who sails out to sea, becomes lost halfway, and is eventually rescued. The disc is constructed from a lush sonic palette that smoothly fuses acoustic instrumentation such as pianos, organs, xylophones, and woodwinds with minimal electronic elements, though the single biggest contributing factor to the poignant atmospheres generated may be the masterful sense of restraint employed throughout.
While early tracks such as “Leaving Home” and “The Safest Place” come tempered with a sense of optimism underlying their foreboding drones and delicate acoustic guitar inflections, as the album progresses, things began to take on a distinctly darker and more isolated tone. The spine-chilling “Arriving at Jan Mayen” vividly evokes the sense of the empty horizon stretching out in all directions, as it sends rippling harmonic drones wafting out into the distance. “Mountains” even incorporates sounds of a desperate SOS pattern being tapped out via Morse code at one point, as heavily treated piano chords take on a submerging degree of reverb.
Indeed, on this center section of Sea, Richardson succeeds brilliantly in forging an atmosphere that’s equal parts foreboding and pleasurably solipsistic. Perhaps most importantly, there’s always the promise of a happy ending lying in wait for those left feeling a little too emotionally bereft by the works of constrained intensity that precede it.
Graham Richardson adopts the role of the Beautiful Soul - that innocent, melancholy position which abhors at the wicked ways of the world and which structures it in advance in order to open up a space for its own activity. Though usually associated with passivity rather than activity, these richly textured ambient compositions actually stem from the latter, from a concern for function rather than the ethereal. Richardson’s sound is robust, sometimes rough and, as he occasionally teeters between trance and silence, one can now and again hear the effort required to make the note. Pieces are at their best when this is indeed the case, when tiny shifts in pitch produce beatings that move at slightly different speeds, looming over a fixed tone, and thus emitting varying degrees of aural disturbance. Problems ensue, however, when pieces are suitably dreamy and forlorn, but display little in the way of arch affectation. ‘Mountains’, for instance, displays a starry-eyed piano melody, accompanied by isolated fragments of muddy analogue delays, yet its volume, tempo and manner of attack is lackadaisical and without variation throughout the duration of the work.
In trying to give other works more of an undercurrent, Richardson opts for mid-paced beats to keep it all from going asunder. More often than not, though, as demonstrated on pieces such as ‘Your Birds’ and ‘Fear’, this leaves the music gliding by too smoothly. Along these lines, an impatience sometimes comes into play, as Richardson wants to infuse the slow-moving textures with a dramatic sense of event that is not compatible with the logic of the field in which he is operating. The result is ‘Nightlight’, a piece which seems overblown in its lush, shimmering textures, tinkling chimes and cascading harmonics. For all that, the work does suggest a certain potential that might still be tapped - ‘I Remember When You Were Good’, with its evocative pianistic flourishes, suggests avenues of more depth and reward.