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Richard Skelton
*Skura Thomas May , January 12th, 2012 10:38

"I felt very light, completely unmoored, unconnected with everything," Richard Skelton told Wire magazine earlier this year. Seven years ago, following the death of his wife, Skelton retreated to the West Pennine Moors, composing music alone in an attempt to ground his ever more spectral existence in the tangibility of the landscape. He explored the physicality of his instruments, restringing his violin with progressively heavier gauge strings until he could positively feel each note reverberating through his body.

Skelton set up the Sustain-Release label and began releasing albums in beautifully handcrafted packages, often including souvenirs of pine cones or scraps of bark to preserve the essence of the music's physical origin.

Sustain-Release is now described by Skelton as an "archive" and the entirety of the label's releases are collected together here in a single set. Standing as a monument to the memory of a loved one, *SKURA is heavily laden with a sense of grief and loss. On the sparse and striking Marking Time, Skelton laments the constant distancing of himself from his past, as insistent piano figures slowly become enveloped within waves of mournful strings. The skeletal arrangements demonstrate a canny appreciation of restraint, affording Skelton the space to explore his themes without resorting to overwrought emoting.

That said, of the triplet of albums released under his Clouwbeck moniker, the first, A Moraine, strikes a slightly uneven balance. Paring his palette down to its one essential component, Skelton constructs a gently lulling mass of ambient strings and, whilst certainly a pleasant listen, the overly reserved feel of A Moraine (virtually amelodic, relying solely on subtle, droning harmonies) renders it somewhat anonymous. The latter two Clouwbeck releases are more expansive in their vision, providing an emotional foothold that was previously lacking; Wolfrahm's a dense knot of strings is haunted by shards of half-remembered melody, and From Which The River Rises is awash with swells of orchestral majesty. These are exquisite recordings, desolate and generously spacious, sounding almost as if they're drifting directly in from the vast West Pennine Moors.

The story of Skelton's development as told by SKURA is one of persistent refinement rather than constant innovation, with the Clouwbeck releases providing a microcosm of this steady progression. Yet the overall sweep of his work is best represented by 2009 album Landings. Opening with the stark, blustery 'Noon Hill Wood', which highlights the power and grace of his metallic, sweeping violins, Landings distils Skelton's sound down to its absolute emotional core. The record acts almost as a summary of Skelton's entire output on Sustain-Release – from the intimate, lonely guitar of 'Scar Tissue' to the cavernous atmospherics of 'The Shape Leaves' – but throughout the musical language is so direct, so uncluttered, that nowhere does this large-scale work seem to meander or overindulge. On Landings, and indeed the entirety of *SKURA, Skelton's unflinching sincerity and the understated eloquence of his musical communication enables him to transform such preoccupations with loss and decay into beautiful, captivating works of steady healing and cautious hope.