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Ruth Goller
Skylla Daryl Worthington , July 14th, 2021 08:49

Bassist for Acoustic Ladyland and Melt Yourself Down with her first solo album, an entwining of bass and voice that feels like pure science fiction, finds Daryl Worthington

Ruth Goller’s songs on Skylla play out like a game of pass the story along between composer and instrument. Flurries of notes met with bouncing clusters of vocal phrases. An idea knocked back and forth, extended and elaborated in a state of constant evolution. The result feels deeply emergent, a dialogue which is maze-like yet open ended.

Bassist with Acoustic Ladyland and Melt Yourself Down, Goller’s performed and recorded with the likes of Shabaka Hutchings and Paul McCartney, but Skylla marks her debut solo statement. Each track is composed with a different tuning, Goller using that unfamiliarity as a vehicle into an instinctive, reactive approach to composition.

On opener ‘Often They Came To Visit, Even Just To See How She Was (M1)’ harmonics and syllables dance through the air like they’ve been flicked from a paint brush. Runs through unfamiliar scales creating a mystifying shimmer as wordless vocalisations meld into interpretable phrases. ‘What’s Really Important She Wanted to Know part 1’ sees Alice Grant join on vocals, two voices dancing around bass flickers before a cloud of distortion takes it towards Big Brave style drone meditations. ‘The shine of the gold was too strong (M8)’ dwells more in friction and tension. While Goller’s bass and singing trickle along, Lauren Kinsella’s abstract vocalisations splash through. The three elements combining into a warped flow of surreal perceptions.

It’s music which feels like speculative fiction, as though the twisting shapes and sinuous melodies are teasing towards something unbounded by familiarity. ‘What’s Up Is Not Real Most Of The Time’ captures that feeling most poignantly in both title and sonics. Patterns of harmonics make post-rock shapes, while the playful, almost nursery rhyme vocal melody seems to get more complex with each repetition, a delicately laced riddle which asks you to admire the intricacy rather than find a solution. It’s possible to try and pull out a few things this record sounds like: Douglas McCombs’ all bass laments as Brokeback, the intimate abstraction of Body/Head, and the utopian ethnography Ursula Le Guin and Todd Barton conjured on Music and Poetry from Kesh. But really these references are just plotting contours around Skylla rather than pointing to what it’s a synthesis of.

Goller cites her post-punk roots as an inspiration, and while it might not be obvious in this album’s soft, smokey hues, it’s there in the defiant, convention-evading energy. It sits on a gentler yet related parallel to the line that runs from The Raincoats through to Still House Plants, in that it uses spontaneity and playfulness to break inscribed convention. Skylla captures a sense of stepping over a threshold into unfamiliar territory, elation surging through the grasping for new associations and relations.