"Collapsologists" are a new breed of thinker, committed to preparing us for life after civilization as we know it comes to an end. It's hard to read any recent account of the stark realities of climate change, or to grapple with the precarious geopolitical winds now reaching gale force, without giving at least a cursory recognition that this somewhat gloomy endeavor may have a point. In any event, if music is needed to assist in the transition to a new way of conceiving society, New Hermitage aims to supply it. An ambient/chamber quartet with an aptitude for finding the beauty in the smallest of musical gestures, the group's Unearth
is an enigmatic and, at times, riveting listening experience.
Saxophonist/bass clarinetist Andrew MacKelvie leads the group on what is now its fourth release. With cellist India Gailey, guitarist Ross Burns and harpist Ellen Gibling all present since the group's debut, One
(Self-released, 2017), the four clearly have an unfailing mutual trust and sympathetic vision, attentive to the patient, graceful, and elliptical motion that characterizes this music. With only the subtlest of electronic effects provided by Burns, there are many stark, almost barren moments here, although further engagement reveals a nascent, life-giving force that points toward renewal amidst the music's sometimes desolate aspects.
With the exception of Gailey's "Pine Bottle Skylight" and Gibling's "In Amber," the music is collectively improvised, and it's a credit to the group's single-minded chemistry that telling the difference between the improvised and composed tracks can be rather difficult. The opener, "Boiling Off, Collecting Vapour," for instance, is rooted in a simple two- note ostinato from Burns alongside which Gibling teases out delicate figures, while Gailey's arco and MacKelvie's resonant bass clarinet become progressively more animated as the four generate a coiled tension. "Moss | Rust" is another spellbinding cut, once again with MacKelvie's bass clarinet adding crucial texture to complement the others' deliberate, glacially-paced musings. While "Pine Bottle Skylight" exhibits a somewhat more melodic sensibility, and "In Amber" a more determined structure, these pieces' embrace of mystery and their tenuous fragility are entirely consistent with the feel of the album as a whole.
Some of the shorter pieces are essentially fragments, almost too brief at times, with several at under two minutes in length. One can appreciate the artistic intent here, as a disjointed soundscape is precisely what we might associate with an aesthetic project geared toward dissolution and ruin. Yet the moments in which the players develop more expansive ideas are the most compelling on the album, as the group's explorative dynamic takes time to fully work its magic. Even so, Unearth
remains a stimulating and evocative release, with even its most austere moments exerting an insistent pull on the listener.
Boiling Off, Collecting Vapour; Light Through the Rubble; Wind Whistles; Moss | Rust; Skeletons; Pine Bottle Skylight; Signal
Patient Sprout; Stalkers; Desertification; In Amber.