It’s curious how one project can turn into another. In the case of Ben Chatwin – the Edinburgh-based composer behind the name Talvihorros – an idea became bigger. What began as a personal challenge to make an album in the space of a week soon turned into something much grander – a quality which is clear in the music itself. The end result of this reconsideration is And It Was So, a seven-track album a year in the making that creaks, breathes, and occasionally crashes slowly into a dark oblivion.
Chatwin’s main source of instrumentation is guitar, altered and warped through pedals and feedback to become a noise altogether detached from its original source. Most often it’s turned into a churning sea of distortion or a quietly brooding ambient mist that fills a space you never were aware of to begin with. His textures are varied, but over the course of the album they feel confined within their own sound world. This is no bad thing when you compare the like Tim Hecker-like tumbling waves of distorted melody on the first half of the opening track “Let There Be Light” and the limbo-esque stillness that makes up most of the soundfield on “A Mist Went Up,” but there is a yearning for the album to spread its wings.
When it stretches beyond harsh channels of noise and unsettling tones, the album offers some of its best moments. On “The Two Great Lights” a repeating synth melody gradually dissolves into the surrounding noise; it’s a beautiful and involving transition of sound that brings to mind one substance turning to another: metal melted down, liquids dispersing into steam. The bells that rustle about in the wind at the beginning of “Swarms of Living Souls” and the streaks of violin and acoustic guitar on the latter half of “Great Sea Monsters” bleed into their surrounding naturally, but also manage to feel distinct in themselves. When listening one time they pass you by, only catching your attention just as their leaving the picture whereas other times they’ll stand out like diamonds in the rough.
The textures Chatwin leans heavily on are good, though, and make And It Was So an involving experience for the most part. Like the title might suggest, there’s an almost biblical, if not mythical sense of grandeur running through the veins of the album. It’s in the song titles (“Let There Be Light,” “Swarms of Living Souls,” “The Two Great Lights”) and it’s in the music; more often or not it sounds like the dramatic , tense music that might soundtrack an epic film where mythological creatures are summoned from the deep crevices of the ocean. It’s on “Creeping Things” where Chatwin sounds like he’s playing too much to the title of the song that he really missteps. Percussion rumbles in the background and a needly guitar line accentuates the surface: it sounds almost too easy, like something made from a set of instructions by a director. The latter half of “Let There Be Light” is also worth calling up. The first seven minutes are hard to debase, and once the ominous tones swell and the drums come in (recalling moments from the 2011 Locrain album, A Clearing), it all sounds like it’s going to lift itself up further and drape an even darker cloud over the listener. Only it doesn’t. Instead it plods along, pushing the distortion to the background and bringing a few likeable melodical instances into the frame. It’s the kind of moment that sounds like it would have taken the full year to find the right conclusion for but still sounds like it needs something special.
But Chatwin is soon back to what he does best. “In The Midst Of The Waters” again carries with it this haunting, nautical theme, screeching like whale song in a polluted sea while “Swarms of Living Souls” offers some of the most aggressive textures with more distortion that recalls (and stands up to) Tim Hecker’s An Imaginary Country and Ravedeath, 1972. Come the calming, spacious final track, “A Mist Went Up,” the title seems to take on a literal quality. Gentle swirls of violin ease you out of the nightmarish world that came before and before long you’re back to world you know. It satisfying to see daylight again, but it’s tempting hope for another storm to come by, too.