Impatience is a common vice in this fast-moving internet age. Artists risk losing relevance if they don’t keep themselves in their share of the limelight. And while some seek to prolong their five minutes of fame longer than anyone wants them to, some play the causal and long game, knowing that the time between each release is time well spent constructing another masterpiece (see Burial, Chromatics, and, as an extreme example, Scott Walker). Michael Silver – the man behind the CFCF name – seems to be caught in the middle of these extremes, playing a game not too dissimilar to Burial: fans eagerly await the release of his next full-length, but instead we get EPs, which turn out to be most welcome, after the initial hissy-fit. Fans (myself included) of CFCF are still waiting for the sophomore effort to 2009’s surprisingly great Continent-– it’s been nearly three years, dammit!
While the remix EP of Continent’s tracks (Drifts) left much to desired, The River EP, which followed a few months after in 2010, was an unexpected treat. Compared to the thick wash of 80s sounds on Continent, Silver’s work sounded almost entirely different on his last EP: the tracks were full of (what sounded like) live instrumentation and the structures of the songs themselves felt more like calmed breathing than sweaty panting in a retro club.
And even though his latest EP, Exercises, follows suit, it still feels like a departure from what we are to expect. Over eight tracks-– or “Exercises”-– Silver carefully and lightly builds up piano compositions with occasional, unobtrusive drum tracks and synths that seep gently into the mix. If anything it’s an even more natural side to Silver, who seems to be stripping away the flesh and blood that made up his previous tracks, leaving him to work with skeletons. On tracks like “Exercise #1 (Entry),” “Exercise #6 (December),” and “Exercise #7 (Loss),” Silver carefully introduces calming, grey tones on top and in-between his steadily moving piano suites. The effect can easily go unnoticed, as Silver’s piano melodies are generally pleasing enough to just have on the background; much as the cover suggests, this is good library music.
It’s nice when he gets things moving, but they never hit too high a tempo here: the clicking beats on “Exercise #2 (School)” and the layered arpeggios on “Exercise #3 (Building)” have them tinkering away like quiet machines. The tracks do move forward, but you’d be wrong to expect any kind of dramatic or lush crescendos here. In fact, it’s best entering the EP with no expectation of any real surprise, other than the initial shock of how calm and stripped down Silver’s setup is. The most startling moment here is when Silver’s voice comes into the mix on “Exercise #5 (September),” which in itself is nothing new (his voice popped up on a couple of tracks on Continent), but here it sounds that bit more assured, even if he’s a little hushed at points.
While some fans will enjoy this, others might find it a little too light for their tastes. It’s pleasant music, which does throw in a few quite intriguing and solid moments: the Ágætis byrjun-era “Exercise #4 (Spirit),” which sadly fades away before much (if anything) happens, and “Exercise #8 (Change),” which gets by with a sturdy bass line and some fizzing synths that come and go. At the very least this EP proves Silver is very proficient at a keyboard, but there was evidence enough of this if you gave Continent the number of spins it deserved. However, it can become background music all too easily: while Silver’s work will always have a degree of ambience to it, Exercises can completely disappear from your consciousness if you don’t pay enough attention, especially during the last few tracks. And while in no way do I want CFCF to be forgotten, Exercises makes it very easy for Silver’s work to fade out of view.