Whilst it be would somewhat reductive to say that the Second Language label has an overarching sound – especially given the diversity of its affiliated artists – it could be fair to say that a fair proportion of its cast of characters subscribe to a shared sense of mood. No better was this exemplified than on the label’s recent End Of A Season compilation, wherein a thematic thread affixed to the melancholic temperaments associated with the onset of autumn fitted the 11 contributors like a glove. Arguably one of the best 2L ambassadors for this collective frame of mind is the Dorset-based Michael Tanner, who has released a clutch of material on the label under his Plinth pseudonym, as part of The A. Lords and now as the de facto leader of The Cloisters.
Recorded with the able assistance of harpist Áine O’Dwyer (United Bible Studies), viola-player Daniel Merrill (Dead Rat Orchestra), cellist Aaron Martin and Hanna Tuulikki on harmonium, the multi-instrumentalist Tanner has delivered perhaps the most mood-driven and most defiantly ambient release in the Second Language catalogue to date with this self-titled new release from The Cloisters.
As a venture in ‘barely-there’ compositions this eponymous long-player is a remarkable achievement for inventive instrumental atmosphere conjuring. Perhaps where the album differs most noticeably from other ambient works are the methods of construction. Rather than relying on the easy one-person paths of electronically-built drones and loops, Tanner has taken a far more labour-intensive organic route to capturing autumnal soundscapes redolent of misty and desolate post-summer rural British landscapes. Spreading its 41 or so minutes across four tracks of moderate to extreme length, the record gracefully unfurls at a glacial pace but yet never succumbs to anything approaching lazy new age muzak. Inevitably, of course, some of Brian Eno’s influence does loom a little over proceedings but Tanner is still very much his own director of sound.
The epic opening “Riverchrist” is certainly the most defining piece across its 17+ minutes, wherein Tanner and co. paint a bleak but beautiful pastoral scene that is both widescreen and claustrophobic in its pyschogeography. Less intimidating are the brief ensuing strains of “The Lock Keeper,” through which warmth and intimacy comes via cascading neo-classical piano lines. In its wake follows the 15+ minutes of “Freohyll Nocturne/Hymn” which extends the reach of “Riverchrist” but also adds greater tangible earthiness as the instrumental components are less deliberately obscured. Proceedings close with the far shorter but more skeletal “A Pelagic Recital,” wherein string-derived drones and ripples fuse in elegiac union.
Admittedly, this 2L debut from The Cloisters is perhaps one of the label’s hardest to describe in text and ultimately total immersion listening is the only way to really make sense of it. Yet its sense of seasonally affected longing and sadness has a universal reach that prevents it from being emotionally impenetrable. A very quiet triumph all told.