Review: Brambles – Charcoal
Serein SERE003 – Time: About 38 minutes (CD & Digital Files)
Mastered by: Donal Whelan at Hafod
Tracks: 1) To Speak Of Solitude; 2) Such Owls As You; 3) In The Androgynous Dark; 4) Salt Photographs; 5) Pink And Golden Billows; 6) Arête; 7) Deep Corridor; 8) Unsayable
I am a relatively new listener to works on the Serein label, which was founded in 2005, originally with works available as free digital downloads. In 2009, Serein switched to “carefully considered commercial” releases. Serein is a name taken from the natural world, being a fine rain that falls from a clear sky after sunset (a phenomenon more common in the tropics, but I can’t say that it doesn’t occur in ancient, pastoral and industrialized Wales, where Serein is located). I first became acquainted with Serein after looking for back catalogue work by Olan Mill, and there I found their beautiful album Pine. So, another record label on which to get hooked!
Brambles is the alias of Mark Dawson, a musician born in the UK, a resident of Australia, and from what I have read, he is traveling throughout Europe (and currently in Berlin, according to his Twitter-feed @brambles, for those who adventure into the Twittersphere). Charcoal, his debut release, was largely recorded (piano, strings, woodwinds and field recordings) while in residence at The Painted Palace, a low-environmental-footprint communal house of artists and thinkers in Melbourne, Australia.
For me, Charcoal is an album of observation and contemplation at opposite ends of a given day. Beginning at the end—at dimmity*, the settling-in to night then shifting to first-light and awakening. The moods range from brooding (though not gloomy) to amorous (a deep feeling of warmth and comfort). There are times when the album verges on haunting, as in the dark visceral (and unexpected) tones of Deep Corridor.
Charcoal opens with the resting heartbeat of plucked strings and piano of To Speak of Solitude; to me it’s as if observing the setting sun, viewing the horizon and skies in contemplation. The pace slows further with similar instrumentation and gentle woodwinds, to a meditative state in Such Owls As You; the silence of a late candle-lit night. There is a slow Jazz vibe to In The Androgynous Dark, which has a feeling of reflection, of what might have been. It’s a quiet and mournful trio of drums, piano and woodwinds (with some electronic atmospherics).
The album gently stirs with Salt Photographs, as time passes with sounds of exploration. Soft pulses of keyboard (electric piano?) and nylon guitar narrate, and bowed strings entwine the rhythmic foundation and probe to awaken memories before fading away. Pink And Golden Billows is a light-hearted, plucky, meandering awakening to dawn. By contrast, Arête opens with a stark yet expansive scene, punctuated by a lone cello, like a knife edge of rock (the arête) cutting the view. A somber piano responds, the balance. It could be a scene of surveying a mountain ridge, and then making the decision to traverse it, represented by the quickening rhythm, as if hiking across to a destination.
The most mysterious and atmospheric of the tracks on the album is Deep Corridor. It is as if spelunking an uncharted cave with a dim head-lamp, with sounds (and some of earthly-low frequency) all around from unknown sources. I’ll date myself and note that there are times when it sounds like Tangerine Dream’s Desert Dream from their 1977 live album Encore. Charcoal closes with the whispering lament Unsayable, on what sounds like an old saloon upright or pin piano; reminiscent of some recent works by Harold Budd or Nils Frahm.
Once again, the best discoveries in music for me are the result of lateral associations with other artists or their record labels. I am happy to have discovered the Serein label and Brambles. While Charcoal is seemingly a personal work, so fortunate we are to have a window into Mark Dawson’s journey. His debut work is peaceful, timeless and transcendent.
*- Dimmity or dimmit-light (twilight), an old West Country (Devon, UK) term used by Henry Williamson, to open the original text version of his book Tarka The Otter, published in 1927.
This is a solicited review.