Boomkat Product Review:
Shadow Ring frontman Graham Lambkin returns with his first proper album in seven years, an extended "transatlantic meditation" that tries to make sense of the artist's move back to the UK after almost two decades in the USA. Solo piano music has rarely felt more fragile, or hypnotic.
Graham Lambkin's way of approaching the piano is typically idiosyncratic; he knows its cultural weight and his listeners' preconceptions, and still approaches it with anarchic nonchalance: he's as likely to strike arrhythmically at its guts or record the slamming down of a broken pedal as he is to play discernible phrases or motifs. The album was recorded between New York and East London early last year, as Lambkin considered his move back to a post-Brexit Britain after spending 20 years on the other side of the pond. He'd recorded 'Lindus' with Shadow Ring between Kent and Florida in 2001 when he initially emigrated, so 'Aphorisms' acts as its mirror, a wide-angled view of displacement from the opposite perspective.
Since it was recorded in two separate places, there are two pianos that blur into one-another on 'Aphorisms'. One was situated in the Blank Forms studio in New York and one was in Lambkin's London home, and he purposefully overlays both in an attempt to capture the essence of rooms that have directed his writing over the years. In fact, the spaces themselves are just as important as the instrumentation; while the piano provides focus, it's the reverberation and empty, open air that truly directs the sound. On 'Slave Painting', key strokes are blunted into a faint, melodic drone, swamped out by room tones and spruced up with garbled speech and sibilant, breathy improvisations, while on 'Limp Test' the character of the instrument's wooden body and the sound it makes bouncing through space when struck is as crucial as Lambkin's garbled instructions.
On the generous 'Trilogy of Embers' - one of the album's two long-form compositions - Lambkin swerves slightly from the spartan setup, overlaying samples to animate an illusory ensemble. The piano is still present, creaking under lavish, cinematic strings and jumbled radio static that couches Lambkin's musings and freeform, animalistic expressions. When it finally rings out in earnest, it sounds as if it's being floated out to sea, maybe shipped to another country for relocation.
The album's second disc is more developed and in many ways more piercing: opener 'Porpitus' is particularly memorable, bleeding wooden creaks over unstable, blissful choral drones and unsettling, robotic whispers, and 'Cannon Hill' is grim and horror-struck, squeezing the dread out of thrilling piano vamps and spine-tingling footstep recordings.
But it's the lengthy title track that contextualises the album's spread of unmoored expressions - over almost 20 minutes, Lambkin turns his piano into a drumkit and a set of power tools, using it to create drones and scratches that are as absurd, challenging and brilliant as anything the academic set might claim to dream up. It concludes with a sinkhole spiral of jazzy pseudo-brass, tumble-dried drums and elegiac musicbox tones that echo into nothingness - what better way of mapping out your trip from a big old rock all the way back to the hard place. Deep as fuck.