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Noveller - Fantastic Planet

  by Adrian Janes

published: 18 / 1 / 2015

Noveller - Fantastic Planet
Label: Fire Records
Format: CD


Evocative and heartfelt latest album from Noveller, the instrumental synthesizer/guitar project of Austin, Texas-based musician and filmmaker Sarah Lipstate

Sarah Lipstate is an American musician who has worked with a number of artists in what might be termed the alternative mainstream, including Lee Ranaldo, Glenn Branca, Jim Thirlwell and The Jesus Lizard. She has released several albums as Noveller prior to ‘Fantastic Planet’, and her experience shows in the assurance of her playing and the varied permutations of guitar and synth textures she creates, each piece like an exploration of a different landscape. There is an initial echo of Branca in the gently chiming rhythm guitar which introduces ‘Into the Dunes’. It’s soon overtaken by a delicately picked-out guitar motif and brief synth surges, which hint at the dramatic shift to come: sudden blasts of distorted guitar which sting like a sandstorm, agitated trumpet-like flurries in its midst, before the piece resolves on a raw, resonant guitar. Immediate contrast comes with the beautiful ‘No Unholy Mountain’. Clear, cool tones which suggest mingled harp and oboe with wordless female vocals, create something which flows and ripples like a sunlit mountain stream. ‘Rubicon’ is the first of a number of tracks which feel like the album’s sense of direction has been temporarily misplaced. It’s founded on a repetitive, chattering quasi-gamelan synth phrase, around which more ominous tones slither, coupled with siren-like sounds. But this drama fades away, simply to return to the opening synth theme. Somehow, it feels like its early promise is unfulfilled. ‘Sisters’ and ‘Concrete Dreams’ are even more amorphous, lacking any mould to really give them form. Yet they’re followed by ‘Pulse Point’, the album’s longest and most powerful track. From a swirling guitar, swept by keening keyboard, the piece moves unhurriedly towards a blast of distorted sound which threatens to bury everything else. Instead, a glittering synth opens out with an almost Chinese melody, part of a sound which evokes vast caverns in the manner of early Swans, over percussion that’s like a pick hacking away for survivors. At the climax, the keyboard sounds like it’s being played in some natural cathedral. This is a piece that really quickens the pulse. ‘In February’ opens with reverbed guitar, its tone highly reminiscent of the introduction to Jeff Buckley’s version of ‘Hallelujah’. Once again, Noveller ably mixes textures, adding solemn sound washes, guitar, muted, tinkling piano and more serial synth. The delicacy of this composition is succeeded in turn by the brooding atmosphere of ‘Growing’, percussion thudding like a slow heartbeat beneath an interplay of sweeping, stretched guitar and synth notes. ‘The Ascent’ places Lipstate’s guitar versatility to the fore, moving through an almost Frippertronic feel at the start that is set against a more lyrical guitar, to an overlay of fiery distortion, before it concludes in renewed tranquility, the arduous journey over. This album makes an interesting contrast to Daniel Lanois’ recent ‘Flesh And Machine’. Lipstate too has filmic ambitions, and has actually made films as well as albums, but on ‘Fantastic Planet’ she is rather more successful at realising pieces which are evocative and generally (though not always) offer satisfying melodies and fragments of melody, where Lanois too often neglected to shape his sounds. There are certainly some beautiful, stirring tracks here, and while the album’s title implies an imagined world, it could equally be that the tenderness and terror at the poles of this music are a heartfelt response to this one.

Track Listing:-
1 Into the Dunes
2 No Unholy Mountain
3 Rubicon
4 Sisters
5 Concrete Dreams
6 Pulse Point
7 In February
8 Growing
9 The Ascent

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