Album Review: The Sight Below – It All Falls Apart

[Ghostly International; 2010]

It is perhaps just me reading too much into it but the title of a bonus track from Glider, the first full length from Seattle’s The Sight Below had an aptness in its title: “Feeling Lost Forever.” That’s not meant to be a derogatory remark but it was in some respects fitting in describing Glider as a whole. What it excelled in with splayed out nuance and subtly, it lacked it confidence and identifiable flair. The album as one piece can feel much like the name of the artist; like the passing hills and clouds you can see out of a plane’s window – gorgeous and calming but often fleeting and best appreciated in small doses.

On the second album from the Seattle artist things are different. Since the release of his debut for the Ghostly International label, the identity behind the moniker has been revealed as Rafael Anton Irisarri. A name does not change my own personal perceptions of the music (nor does a face, seen in photographs on the label’s website) but it does add a human element to it – something which seems part of the backbone of this record. Just look at the cover of the album: an odd pose from a girl caught in some sort of transient state that still manages to play with your initial perceptions. But compare it to the ambiguous shots of terrain from Glider and his previous EPs and it serves as a juxtaposition. But the most striking feature of the human nature is the inclusion of vocals on “New Dawn Fades” (a Joy Division cover). Much like Loscil’s inclusion of Dan Bejar on his notable album Endless Falls, a human voice amidst a chasm of ambience makes for a surprising and interesting turn.

It’s easy to get caught up in the lyrical content of the song and how it relates to the stylistic changes made here by Irisarri but if you look beneath the vocals you see perhaps a more interesting change; that is the upfront use of electric guitar on the track. Irisarri’s guitar work on his albums and EPs made for individual focal point in his work but it’s often so subtle and well disguised that it can drift by without you realising it’s ever there. I must myself concede that it never really noticed it myself until it read about I afterwards. But even when you do go into one of his pieces with the intent of listening out for it you’ll likely find yourself distracted by the airy ambience that surrounds you. On “New Dawn Fades” the alerted guitar ripples through crackling and pressing dull tones. Jesy Fortino’s voice is as tremulous as ever but here it seems to almost emerge as part of the music as much as it sounds like it’s getting washed away by it. One of the most sublime moments come when she sings “can’t seem to feel it anymore” and the last word reverberates, sounding like she’s sinking and dissolving simultaneously.

The strength It All Falls Apart comes in its ability to confidently use big evocative gestures to lasting and minimal effect. Opening track “Shimmer” is a slow wash of unspecific tones that sounds like it’s clearing a beach of an unspecified disaster. It creaks and grows but never leads you get excited and think some climax is on its way. Rather it leaves you in a sort of vaguely optimistic melancholic state, making you wonder what happened while you also are grateful you weren’t at all involved. “Through The Gaps In The Land” puts the listener is more comfortable territory with steady and lasting beats that help accentuate and drive the guitar theme. But the record doesn’t really hit as you beginning until you hit the fourth track “Burn Me Out From The Inside” with its assured, eerie and pulsating tones that work. Once again the beats help keep the pace and I kind of want to suggest that if it didn’t sound as creepy and undulating as it does then you might even say it has a groove to it. You might be able to nod your head slightly or tap you foot with the beat but Irisarri’s music isn’t the kind you’d dance to.

With all this talk of change you might well be inclined to suggest that the album title is pretty much spot on. However like I said at the beginning with “Feeling Lost Forever”, it’s only somewhat fitting. For those who appreciated Glider, this album might well take a few listens before it feels like another album from The Sight Below. A much needed air of confidence has been injected into the music (likely from the contribution by Slowdive member Simon Scott) and here it flows around the veins which are the elements of Irisarri’s work. His work might still have a sort of ambiguity to it but no longer sounds unsure. Closing track “Stagger” is more than thirteen minutes long but it never sounds like it’s loitering. It’s the kind of track that will have more of a subconscious effect on you. Stick it on while you’re walking home from work or somewhere and it’ll likely slow your pace down to a thoughtful amble. But you’ll never get distracted by it as you listen. I would be lying if I said I could identify what it is that changes during the track but like the rest of his music, when it’s playing, I’m engrossed in an odd way. Not fixated but still interested, not listening intently but not ignorant. And if this proves anything then it’s that Irisarri is only improving as a successful ambient artist.