I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.
(That’s Iambic2 – not Iambic2. Stupid formatting.)
As winter approaches, the skies stay a little grayer, the wind gets a little brisker, and the temperatures drop until you can feel the cold in your bones. It’s October now in Pennsylvania, and as I write this we’ve just experienced our first multi-day stretch of seasonal weather: highs in the fifties, rain, wind. The leaves are right on the verge of changing, and they can’t do it soon enough. Church bells, rain on windshields, the breeze through cornfields – all these things sound better in the fall, infused with deep nostalgia. This is my favorite time of year, and simply breathing in the autumn smells and cool air clears my head and sends my blood dancing through my veins. I feel so much more alive now that the heat and stagnation of summer have passed.
Iambic2, aka Brighton, UK, based producer Guy Andrews, knows a thing or two about the changing seasons, as evidenced here on As the Snow Fell, his second release for Austrian netlabel Laridae. Although the title, with little room for second-guessing, gives away the inspiration and thematic context for the album – an important signifier considering that the album is mostly instrumental, as there are very few lyrics from which to draw significance – Iambic2 has managed to deliver a song cycle steeped not only in a cold winter landscape, but also in the essence of the human relation and interaction with that landscape. His interpretations transcend place, whether empty gray city streets or deeply rutted country roads winding beneath evergreens. No matter the texture or arc of his compositions, or the resulting tension or relief he explores within, Andrews seems to hit upon the universal feelings inherent in people’s experience of winter and the preparations for it. He finds comfort in the anxiety of survival, the extra steps and methods needed to ride out the cold months. Perhaps now, on the cusp of the winter season during which much of the action on the album takes place, is the perfect time to revel in a record so devoted to cold and harsh landscapes, yet composed and performed with such warmth.
Listening to As the Snow Fell is like curling up under a blanket while you watch the, er, title happen outside your window. And while that’s the perfect place to strap on your headphones and while away the afternoon in abject peacefulness, I’ve found that it’s equally ideal to stroll the silent, snow-covered London streets, a mere hour’s train ride from Brighton, with the soothing tones of this record wafting from your earbuds. Case in point – album opener “Storm’s Theme,” while an Eluvi-al (as in “like Eluvium,” not “eluvial”) piano and string meditation of a gray day getting darker with snow-laden clouds advancing over the hills, it most tantalizingly conjures the gathering darkness of a late-afternoon wander among city buildings. Flurries, when they begin, are not a surprise – they’re pleasantly expected. A brighter December day follows on “To Wake, To See,” as keyboards and guitar feedback give way to a gentle folk guitar melody and string arrangements, and we’re also treated to our first drumbeat, a 4/4 snare and hi-hat accompaniment that fits solidly into its post rock surroundings. Evoking the sensation of waking, as an adult (as opposed to a child, whose sensations of glee at the prospect of a snow day have no place here), to a morning already blanketed with snow, the track breathes deeply with us as we take in the white fields from our bedroom window. Look at that – “To Wake, To See” has even made us a cup of tea.
“Night-13” reaches into electronic pop territory by comparison, and includes vocals for the first time, one of two songs on the album that do. Backmasked guitar and keyboards navigate IDM pops, clicks, and drum machines, and through it the city at night stretches cold and glows brightly, filled with life (indoors anyway), regardless of the temperature. “Close of Day” is the cab ride home – slower drum machines, keyboards, and finger-picked guitar shimmer off the frost of parked cars, and the streets are barely navigable at this late hour – the road crews won’t begin plowing the streets in earnest until the morning. “When Father Cries” reprises the Eluvium comparison with melancholy piano, and it begins a three-song suite wherein the depression of a long, cold winter replaces the joy of a new season and the contentment of being bundled up inside. “This Day Goes Nowhere,” obviously a dark day from beginning to end, fills our skies with clouds that get darker and colder as the hours pass, until the sun finally sets at that ungodly-early afternoon hour. “December’s Shadows,” although plaintive and heartbreaking piano, keyboard, and sound effects, clears the oppressive clouds from the night sky and stars begin to break through. Throw on your winter jacket, boots, and scarf, and crunch through the snow while the moon shines brightly, illuminating your path. What initially feels like a rural setting morphs back into late-night urban restless wandering, the sidewalk running beneath your feet simultaneously too quickly and too slowly. It’s quite possibly the most gorgeous song on the album.
The final third of As the Snow Fell twists and turns with new surprises, as Iambic2 shifts stylistically from song to song, and the focus on place shifts more resolutely toward human relationships. “Sleep Cycle,” at twelve minutes of gracefully shifting ambient tones, cleanses the palette and refreshes the listener for the remainder of the album. The track’s title fits it perfectly, as the deep tones seep into the subconscious, and in dreams you’re plunged into billowing piles of snow – but it’s not cold, even though you’re wearing winter clothes; rather, it’s quite pleasant. Waking to “Beside You,” snugly wrapped in a soft blanket beside your partner, couldn’t feel more comfortable or safe. Eyes squint open to the low morning sun filtering through the curtains, and lots of stretching ensues, until someone decides it’s time to rise and make coffee. As soon as the pot starts though, it’s back to bed while it brews. The true curveball of the album follows, as “Dust Below the Ground,” its traditional instrumentation of plucked acoustic guitar, brushed drums, muted horns, and sleigh bells, along with low-key vocals, recalls Nick Drake or Sufjan Stevens rather than post-rock contemporaries. Nostalgia truly strikes the heart here, as the sensation of riding in a horse-drawn carriage or sleigh through the forest or fields feels like the perfect manifestation of comfort and satisfaction. “It Snowed the Day We Died” closes the record on another ambient note, this one of gathering clouds and melancholy horizons, and, as alluded to in the title, a passing of one life to the next, as winter is often referenced as a period of closure, and its transition into spring a time of rebirth. And so we’re left to meditate and reminisce throughout the winter on the past, clutching loved ones close while we still can, seeking the warmth and consolation of home and family, and hoping that the year to come will be filled with joy. Iambic2 meets us there with a soft sweater and a smile, welcoming us to his fireside. I couldn’t possibly imagine spending another winter otherwise.
RIYL: Eluvium, Colophon, Sigur Rós