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Andrew Wasylyk
Fugitive Light and Themes of Consolation Johny Lamb , September 9th, 2020 07:28

Dundee's Andrew Wasylyk meditates on the river Tay with a deft hand and a loving glance in this third part of a trilogy on Scotland's east side

Fugitive Light and Themes of Consolation is the third album in a series by Andrew Wasylyk released on the excellent Athens of the North. These albums, beginning with Themes for Buildings and Spaces and followed by the much lauded The Paralian, are made in response to Wasylyk’s surroundings in the east of Scotland (he is based in Dundee). Exploring architecture, industry, and the coast on the first two records, for this last instalment he takes us back inland up the estuary of the river Tay.

I have a particular interest in music about place, and I think that there is no proper or most useful methodology for this kind of work. Its success – particularly when instrumental as most of this record is – will often depend to a certain extent on how much the listener subscribes to the notion of representation in music. What is useful in works like this perhaps, is to consider what we can learn having been given the catalyst and motive for the work, rather than what it is possible to actually ‘know’ about place from music.

This is something I really like about this record. We are given what we need to begin, and then Wasylyk launches into the meandering tracks, making no effort to supply specificity, nor to disguise his own subjectivity. He enjoys not just the landscape and concept, but also the textures and influences of the music itself. There is always a danger that ideas like this become hostage to fortune, stilted by the presence of their concept. In this instance, what feels like a confident hand allowing the music to become without overplaying its subject, keeps the record both beautiful and accessible. Wasylyk walks a well thought-out line between abstraction and realism.

The music itself draws heavily on the kind of Jazz that we’d normally associate with American cities (There is a clear, unapologetic presence of Alice Coltrane here). But by combining this music with soundtrack-style tropes and something of later Talk Talk, we find something that manages to be breezily pastoral without ever brushing against the twee. The instrumentation is truly lovely, led mostly by keyed instruments. We hear tuned percussion, musical saw, old style organ-top drum machines (I fancy I hear a Mini Pops in here), strings and a horn section that seems always in a relaxed, open throated lower register. Time spent with the majestic ‘(Half Light of) the Cadmium Moon’ will evidence all of this beautifully. Sweeping scales and dense chords set over the most delicate of ostinato.

While there is a watery, flowing quality to the album, Wasylyk doesn’t rely on musical onomatopoeia, which I think speaks to his skill as a composer. The journey is more esoteric, more thoughtful than a mere attempt at description. We cover a lot of ground from riverbanks, to the agricultural, to the suburban, and always there is a lingering darkness, a sense of a forlorn twilight. It’s almost as though the artist, while taking great pleasure in the landscapes he occupies is also fearful for its future. A fancy that seems to solidify in repeated listens to the passing diminished chords and slight dissonance of ‘A Further Look at Loss’.

This is an album that can be lived in (which I suppose a record about place should be). One that can be returned to over and over again. As comfortable as it is complex, it has an eeriness that one can fully invest in. It is sentimental, sure, but charmingly and convincingly so. It brings a knowing retroism through its timbres that when realised through the clean and tasteful production feels like a good friend not seen for too long. I think Wasylyk knows his home well, and presents it with care and real affection, for us to linger and enjoy the vista.