The musical output of U.K. multi-instrumentalist and composer Richard Skelton is not to be approached lightly. Since 2004, he has maintained Sustain-Release, a private-press record label dedicated to his late wife that intermittently dispatches micro-runs of exquisitely designed and packaged recordings under a variety of pseudonyms, including A Broken Consort and Carousell. In 2008, Skelton released Marking Time, his first record under his given name. Recorded over four years in the hills and moors of Northern England, Skelton’s second album, Landings, is thematically demanding but accessibly beautiful. From the opening notes of “Noon Hill Wood,” whose rough and tumble violin strings invite you into the starkly beautiful physical geography of North England, and the psychological geography of Skelton’s own ruminations, Landings announces itself as a major work.
Elsewhere, standout “Voice of the Book” comes replete with the sound of chirping birds and a thick layer of ambiance that handily accomplishes one of the basic goals of art: transportation to another world. Menacing string patterns slowly grow in volume and dissonance as Skelton envelops the listener in a cloud of sonic melancholy. Landings is a record that demands attentive, high-volume listening, a tacit refusal on Skelton’s part to give ground to the increasingly compressed sound of the singles-based new music economy.
Landings’ final act kicks off with “Pariah,” a relatively short track structured around a deliberately simplistic guitar line. It’s filled out with muffled ambient overtones and dissonant flourishes that conspire to increase the tunes hypnotic qualities exponentially as the tune chugs along. It’s a remarkably deeply felt musical passages. The album ends on a high note with the epic “The Shape Leaves,” which begins with the now familiar chirping of birds and quickly gathers momentum until its quietly devastating crescendo. It’s just one more reason that attentive listeners will find a bottomless well of casually brilliant musical gestures in Landings.
Deliberately challenging instrumental music infused with a classical sensibility has gained ground in recent years. From the cult adulation attending groups like Godspeed You! Black Emperor to the crossover success of William Basinski and Tim Hecker, the playing field for forward thinking avant-garde music with popular appeal — particularly when grounded in a strong personal vision — is wide open, and Richard Skelton deserves to be a major player.