Thursday, May 31, 2012

Seaworthy - Bellows and Breath

 This was the last piece I ever wrote for the mighty Silent Ballet. Never got published, so Cam Webb, if you're listening, this was meant to be for you and your listeners.

Cameron Webb’s ambient music has always had the folksy charm of a hobby farm down a long country road. Seaworthy has collaborated in recent years with the likes of Matt Rösner and Fabio Orsi and the project used to be a band, but Webb is officially on his own on Bellows and Breath. Instead of focusing on his familiar guitar abstractions, this album revolves entirely around an instrument that is usually relegated to the occasional color accent in the indie and folk music world: harmonium. Given this organ’s breath-like quality, one might wonder why we don’t hear it more often in this massively expanding musical world of ambient and drone. It doesn’t need any effects or reverb; it’s a natural drone machine. The issue is probably that in most hands it sounds terrible! Not here. Webb has been practicing, and his keen awareness of the instrument’s strengths and hidden versatility make for a warm listen. “Bellows Whispered Breath” instantly plots the course with fuzzy layers of harmonium and melodica rich with overtones. As if this welcome fill of sound were the journey at sea, the track ends with the sound of birds. Land ho! From here Webb explores the beaches, abandoned docks, and coastal forest of a secluded island of sound, perfect for a relaxing summer afternoon. Field recordings are still a big part of Seaworthy’s sound, as washes of water and woodland din dapple the album’s sighing pages. Deeper into Bellows and Breath the acoustic guitar enriches the environment with some subtle meditations, before departing for the wheezy finale. Clearly hearing the fingers scraping the frets (“Rattled Rushes”) or the clank of a buoy (“Breathe Deep”) distinctly puts the listener in a clear place, and the harmonium’s steady presence creates the presence of wind and power that truly feels like a natural occurence. Webb has done an amazing job switching instrumental focus with such grace while maintaining his signature celebration of environmental rhythms and tangents. A lovely surprise.

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