Opening with a whistling gale and the fumbled realism of a human being in space, Jon Collin’s latest long player – for the Discreet label this time – is a masterclass in restraint, mood, tone, shapeshifting. Jon Collin, originally from Manchester, first came to our attention on collaborations with fellow travellers and his own tape imprint Winebox Press. His tape label illustrated his approach to creating better than any words can describe: each release was housed in cases meticulously crafted from pieces of furniture that had their own resonances. Tapes made from discarded school desks or cabinets that once housed cherished china or family photographs. The attention to detail and rough beauty was just astounding. Much like his music: his sparse, sensitive guitar playing often sounding like soft rain in middle of summer or, as is the case here, like bowed waves of sad sound rising and falling like breath in the woods.
On Bridge Variations (or The Song Of Stokholm) Collin performs a kind of audio mapping of his new home city, with both sculptural tremolo picked guitar primitivism and autoschediastic audio recordings of place. The album is accompanied with a large photo booklet of Stockholm which help to illustrate this too. On The Singing Waterfall Collin is playing a shakey guitar in space and allowing sounds to transform and mutate into different forms. The ominous rumbling of traffic morphs into ersatz water, a cyclist rings their bell as they cycle past the lonely figure playing in the darkness before they emerge into the Stockholm daylight. The album provokes a wealth of emotions and while Collin can clearly make the heavens weep – Årstabron Arch no.2 sounds like something Stars Of The Lid or the best of the Kranky roster would be proud of – his emotive information is always more layered than simple melancholy.
For example, on Black Licorice Collin transforms his guitar into distant bagpipes and evokes a new atmosphere of defiance as the lonely sound belts out in the cavern, fighting an airplane overhead, the crunch of a car’s wheels on wet gravel. It reminds us a little of Henry Flynt’s dynamics on the Back Porch Blues series, minimal in approach and maximal on impact. It’s at this point where the music seemingly morphs into field recording or visa versa. Overtones, howling reverb clanging up the curvature of a tunnel create a truly dualistic atmosphere: It’s spectacularly haunting, overwhelming in its emotive heft but still not monochrome in the actual emotion it conveys. It’s a sound that builds and builds and seems to convey the full spectrum of emotional response. Maybe it’s in the ear of the beholder. Closer That Is My Story continues the narrative, this time the tonality of the guitar replicating a violin’s swelling and weeping. It’s also worth noting that the music here may not actually be a guitar, there’s no instrumentation listed anywhere and really, it doesn’t matter. The layered tonal textures of this track go beyond the physical, really. Like, this music feels so considered yet improvisatory, it’s so complete in its feeling and so in tune with its surrounding it could just as easily by the sound of the spheres, a violin quartet locked in a tiled room, a guitarist with an arsenal of pedals or the secret music spinning in your head when you’re alone.
I think this is where the magic of this release really is. Purporting to be a kind of musical and audio response to space (I’m riffing a lot here, might be nothing of the sort) what you get is an audio mapping of inner space, maybe the artist’s or maybe of whoever hears it. It’s special stuff.