By Edward Willoughby
CEEYS return with third album ‘Hiddensee’ which expands upon themes and inspiration feeding into their last two albums, building on childhood memories and impressions of East Germany and influenced by the aesthetic of Europe’s largest prefab estate in Berlin-Marzahn-Hellersdorf. An excellent example of minimalist music that manages to keep things very tight and refined, this album has a consistent concept and sound palette within each song while still offering for contrast and variation in very subtle ways that push the music along.
The piano truly speaks for itself in these compositions as a central force that is self-assured, with a depth that is clearly the result of well honed skill, set against masterful strings and unified with arrangements that serve to support these key elements while never overcrowding. As the result of rigorous process and concept, this music contains a sense of depth that invites deconstruction, but is equally pleasing at face value.
The album begins with a stark juxtaposition of sounds on ‘Trabanten’. Brooding, ruminating piano sits against rapid-fire rhythmic pounding with an irregularity to it that begins fast, then slowing down to a more tentative pace before speeding up again. Spliced with a touch of synth and perhaps a hint of electric guitar, this is a wonderful beginning to the album. Next on ‘Leaving Wallbook,’ pizzicato strings are mixed with dampened piano that still packs a punch amongst echoes, ripples and texture that disintegrate to slow bowed stings in held harmonies, with a real sense of deliberate restraint.
The following track ‘Sagres’ stands out with its emphatic, heavy bowed strings that have a scraping, sandpapery quality, offering texture and bite. Lurking beneath is a sustained droning bass, while piano meanders amongst the waves, building into more chordal forms. ‘All Airport Delays’ is short but sweet, with a sunrise of glowing strings set against piano that trickles and shimmers; both crystal clear and deeply resonant. Leading on from here with flickering synth texture, ‘Horizont’ is a well integrated sound-world with its minimal drums and delicate interplay between solo strings and piano.
‘Helikopter’ is a compelling track with an intensity that carries through filtered rotor sounds that create an abstract flickering, at times verging on tonal more than textural quality. With a steady kick drum, everything whirs around the synth and strings with slight delay, before piano joins to complete the palette. The next track, ‘Lost and Found’ bores in with its fast, throaty bowed strings set against chordal, rhythmic piano, before ‘Solar Sunny’ offers something more delicate with pulsing synth and a gentle rise and fall.
We take a sharp left turn at ‘0991,' veering perhaps a little too close to a dance remix with its four-to-the-floor pounding, though ultimately the track redeems itself through soaring solo strings and some wild string harmonics at the end that make an impossible leap, sounding more like piccolo than anything that might be bowed. Next, ‘Wanda’ is full of interconnectedness between murky harmonies and rhythms joyously colliding, with plucky synth and slower, pensive piano.
Moving into the tail end of the album, ‘Wanderer’ stretches out with elongated strings that seem to go on and on, while synth patterns mark out punchy treble musings. Finally, on closer and title track ‘Hiddensee’ the album wraps up with lovely, light-hearted piano alongside delicate cumulative pizzicato strings, and just a touch of sound texture woven through.
This album is wonderfully refined; each song and indeed the album as a whole are well balanced, minimal but varied, with very tight arrangements and production resulting in a very accomplished end result. Though the work is not overly emotive, it is nonetheless compelling - even moving at times - though in more of an intellectual than a heartfelt way. This is by no means a criticism, as the overall impression is ultimately a collection of songs that don’t have to work too hard to make their mark.