By Edward Willoughby
Surrendering into stillness as the lines blur between sound waves and light, Alaskan Tapes’ fourth full-length release ‘You Were Always An Island’ is a tender, lingering moment of clarity and simplicity. The composer behind this project, Toronto based Brady Kendall gently coaxes out form and shape in delicate, understated subtleties, creating a warm embrace of sonic somnolence. Like sounds heard from the womb, these distant, unassuming textures shine like a pulsating glow, bringing a sense of release and solace.
This album simultaneously invites the mind to wander, but demands close attention to truly feel its presence. Like a collection of precious stones, each song radiates, like light diffusing and bending through crystalline prisms. There is something quite maternal and comforting in this music; we are lovingly tucked into bed beneath layers of sound as we drift along in a state of placid ease. The wonderful cello work by cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne enshrouds these soundscapes in lustrous beauty while guest vocalist Chantal Ouellette’s soft vocal sighs add a gossamer sheen with her two cameo appearances.
Out of white noise and distant sounds, opening track ‘Waiting’ emerges like a sunrise, a soft radiant glow of organ and strings, while off in the distance, Chantal’s vocals call out gently, drawing us in. With a sense of longing, this halcyon moment is like amber, frozen in time. ‘While Falling’ begins with bubbling, crackling textures like old paint flaking off timber, as a gentle drone washes over, sustained in layers of tape noise. Like sleepwalking through the empty halls of distant memories, this liminal space conjures up a sensation of being lonely, but not alone.
Next, the title track unfurls like endless space; a vast aurora of refracting light across a full spectrum of deep mellow bass and heavenly treble. There is something cosmic and reassuring that seeps into our consciousness through the gentle interplay between guitar and piano, built upon with the faint whispers of a wordless chorus of vocal harmonies. Paradoxically amaranthine yet ephemeral, there is an enveloping sense of rapture in this poignant blooming of sound. Following on in a celestial display, ‘To Leave’ is like a meteor shower in slow motion, with strings and piano twinkling in arrhythmic collisions set against a cloudy, nebulous male vocal humming.
With crackling vinyl noise caught in a loop on ‘Drifter,’ we are met with layered, far off murmurs as the sound is gently propelled by the subtle beat repetition. Beams of light illuminate in shifting spaces: formless musical harmonies that hang in weightlessness. This effulgent shapelessness is beautifully juxtaposed with the more formal musical feel found in ‘Places’ which follows on as an intimate piano solo. This feeling of closeness with the music is heightened in the delicate wooden sounds of piano keys, moving hammers, and as we are drawn yet closer in, we begin to hear the pianist’s fingers as they make contact with ivory.
In ‘All Was Quiet’ we are met with incandescent pulses of sound that slowly creep in, burrowing into the psyche, deeper and deeper. A glittery, sparkling rhythmic repetition grows in brightness, amongst muted trumpet and sustained strings. Chantal’s vocals make another appearance in ‘Skin,’ a brief moment that leaves us wanting more. Scarcely more than a minute in length, this passing fragment of time feels homely and mellow, like a spontaneous bedroom recording capturing a brief spark of delicate magic in soft vocals and acoustic guitar.
Moving into a slightly darker place with ‘Ruins,’ we are greeted with a haze of noise pushed far into the abstract, pierced with hints of the familiar rooted in guitar, but lost and distorted, just barely recognizable. The darkness is momentary as light begins to find its way in; plucked strings ripple through, with no distinct tonality. These sounds verge tantalizingly close to becoming music without overstepping the line, like a radio receiver catching just a hint of something on the other side. Closing with ‘In Trenches,’ crackling sounds like burning embers mingle with a warm droning: a sunset in counterpoint to the album’s opening sunrise, while dreamy guitar cartwheels effortlessly in slow motion.
Gently awakening from this dreamspace, there is a lingering sensation of being cocooned and nurtured. This album delicately holds us in a comforting space that we long to come back to, or perhaps stay forever. It is remarkably restrained in simplicity but expertly formed; our mind left to fill in the blanks in a curious listening experience of co-creation. Like a subtle experience in synaesthesia, this sonic encounter is like an expression of light waves, sublimated into sound.