Northern Valentine – The Distance Brings Us Closer

Northern Valentine
The Distance Brings Us Closer

Five tracks make up The Distance Brings Us Closer and each of them take a similar format. These are soundscapes, great glacial swathes of low frequency keyboard washes and intermittent guitar and percussion interventions. The effect is of a series of sound collages, notably lacking in some of the overindulgence that often spoils the intended effects of this type of experimentalism, and the results are, over the forty or so minutes, some of the most effective pieces of aural sculpture I might’ve heard since the first Sígur Ros album.

Northern Valentine is very far from novice in this field though; the members have been recording together in various forms for over a decade, based around husband and wife team Robert and Amy Brown, and The Distance Brings Us Closer is their seventh album. Working as a five piece here (adding to the aesthetics here are Jeffery Bullimer, Marc Carazo and Ben Fleury-Steiner) and eschewing a studio style in favour of a more immediate “live in the studio” approach, the quintet go some way towards pushing the boundaries of post-rock beyond metallic repetition and on to some areas which I hesitate to describe as ambient. There’s simply too much backbone in Northern Valentine’s work for The Distance Brings Us Closer to find itself merely labelled as Muzak.

I need to admit that I don’t very often hear full albums of this type of soundscaping. Those I do hear often slide into either chaotic atonality or folk based whimsy, and Northern Valentine do neither of these. There aren’t any sudden feedback solos or overbearing mood-shattering drumming going on here: The Distance Brings Us Closer is a tightly-scored piece each of whose five parts properly cohere. There isn’t as much as a spare hi-hat tap on display, and if Northern Valentine really are improvising, then their decade of practise has worked any of the more effusive traits out of their composition.

Varying between the abrasiveness of third track “Dimanche” and the sonorous glissandos of “Escaping Light” which, while it incorporates some more identifiable post-rock touches, these are sublimated beneath the vastness of the entire Northern Valentine armoury. Great swathes of white noise and guitar hydraulics, blizzards of reverberating electronics and a refusal to undercut the strength of this music by adding more populist elements make for a challenging and rewarding listen. Play it quietly, 90% of The Distance Brings Us Closer exists beneath the surface.