Saturday, September 15, 2012

Album Review: Night Shift - Trespassers Guide to Nowhere

Album Rating: A+
The first thing to note about Night Shift’s Trespassers Guide to Nowhere is that it isn’t music in any conventional sense. Far beyond any notion of storytelling, it exists in a plane between our contemporary understanding of music and what we generally consider as just ‘noise.’ Utterly incompatible with any of the genres or styles that we like to assign to albums so that they can be easily archived in the correct train of thought. The album displays ambient-like sentiment, with a sly hint to storytelling without ever really seeming to follow through, but often departs for more raucous and experimental ground. It then compiles sounds both old and new: flirting with one, then the other and then both without a care in the world. It’s the auditory equivalent of the Navidson Record; it just doesn’t seem to fit. The second thing to note is that the label has omitted an apostrophe in ‘Trespassers.’ Apparently the album doesn’t fit with conventional grammar either.

It’s also important to realise that because of this confusion, what you’re reading now isn’t a review; more a bewildered reply from a man who can’t quite believe what he’s been listening to these past few days. Pinning down Trespassers Guide... could be likened to pinning a tail on a donkey that sits inside an impenetrable, opaque box. And for all we know the donkey might also have disappeared in some theoretical quantum physics event (Schrodinger reference there, for those inclined). So while points will be covered, and examples made, I’m afraid to say the confusion will likely remain. Especially if you decide to listen to it.

Trespassers Guide... operates mainly around field samples of all kinds: from the dotting of pencils and scraping of chairs to a short extract on wolves being introduced to an ecosystem. It’s these soundbites that often mark changes or transitions - of which there are many - and it’s with these that any narratives or motifs are described. ‘School for the Gifted,’ which after much thought appears to retell the inner workings of a student’s mind, uses the opening and closing of doors, as well as bells, gongs, chants and whistles to signify a change in place and tone. The story is simple enough, but it’s clearly told without the use of any comprehensible language (although those who speak Russian will have an easier time). Other tracks aren’t quite as direct, but you can often take the title as a reference point and allow the music to create a more vivid description of whatever Night Shift are trying to portray: whether that be an image, narrative or, in this case, an emotional reflection on a narrative.

You can see how easy it is to get lost, then, as understanding takes time even for the more straightforward tracks. Sticking with ‘School for the Gifted,’ which again I must stress is as simple as the album gets, we see that the track showcases at least four distinct styles. It momentarily courts a simple electronic build up before abandoning this for soft, downplayed piano and shortly again for a more sustained stint of wave-like drones and claps. Later, we hear the introduction of flutes and a childrens’ choir, although this is slowly encroached upon by a swarm of glitch, scratches and static. Throughout all of this, Night Shift manage to maintain a remarkable amount of momentum and, once you accept the album’s rather schizophrenic nature, there’s no noticeable jar in tone or mood. It still feels like a singular track.

Elsewhere in the album, we see Night Shift mimic motifs in separate tracks in order to change and distort the image the original made. Defying its glitch elements, ‘Woods Scare’ creates a purely organic landscape with it’s use of rich, lush drones, field samples, echos and the surprisingly fitting inclusion of a Gregorian choir and even a short, triumphant tirade of trumpets. ‘Orthodox Transmitter,’ which follows, revisits many of the same styles while installing them with a much more tinned, mechanical twang before continuing full throttle with a techno bassline and a thick wall of drone: now oppressive and scratching as opposed to rich and lush. It’s playful, if just a tad soul destroying, and thankfully ‘Woods Sooth’ interjects to return the album to the more ethereal, organic vibe that ‘Woods Scare’ introduced. This is not to blemish ‘Orthodox Transmitter’ as substandard as it’s a fantastic piece of music, it’s just that as a deliberate move to distort such a beautiful track as ‘Woods Scare’ you can’t help but personally feel oppressed.

Apart from ending with the exact same sample as it begins, the continuity of Trespassers Guide... seems purposefully sketchy. The track titles and adaptation of motifs give a strong hint that a story is being told here, and some parts are obvious. For example, the album begins with travelling, the protagonist (presumably a self-projection from the listener) later falls out of a tree in ‘Trees Beckon, But Hospital Catches’ and they then run away from hospital into the woods where, as both titles and music show, things get a bit freaky. The full tale is certainly quite a bit more complicated and, I assume, based on metaphor rather than straightforward fact, yet told as it is in such an unobtrusive manner it adds yet another nuance for anyone mad enough to get over the music itself.

Because Trespassers Guide to Nowhere is mad, but in that very particular strain that runs parallel to genius. It’s an incredibly experimental and imaginative journey, and one so deep that you risk losing yourself completely after only a single listen. Night Shift have collated influences from the very furthest reaches of today’s musical scope and added a little magic of their own to create something the likes of which you’ve never heard before, and it’s better than anyone could have hoped.

Preview certain tracks here

1. Stoned Hitchhiker
2. Lift to Where?
3. School for the Gifted
4. Ghost Ferry
5. Ensign Song
6. Trees Beckon, But Hospital Catches
7. Escaped
8. Woods Scare
9. Orthodox Transmitter
10. Woods Sooth
11. A Brief Stay at Antenna-Worshipping Camp
12. Wolfpack Crosses the Border
13. Alternative End

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