Post-classical composer Steve Gibbs’s debut solo EP, Adrift, is an ethereal piece of work which gorgeously brings together piano and strings with ambient electronic textures. Released in 2014, this solemn seven-track EP sounds positively cinematic. It is not difficult to understand why Gibbs’ work has been used in movies and ad campaigns. The general lack of prominent melody throughout the album makes it perfect as soundtrack music as well as, of course, being ideal listening material when in a reflective and open mood.
The opening track ‘Adrift’ begins with an ambient soundscape that is astral and recalls Brian Eno’s Apollo in its expansiveness. The sounds of reversed guitars steadily filter into the mix. Soon there enters the muffled sound of piano chords which light up this tapestry of sound. We are certainly ‘adrift’ now: there is a sense of hanging in the ether to this track which sets the atmosphere for the rest of the EP. This sense of intedeterminacy is not a troubling one, but a feeling of liberation from constraints, a cool and calm lack of focus which is perfect for this sombre time of year. Softly dancing, arpeggio-like treble piano figurations come in out of this abstraction and are given warmth and depth by the prominent, swelling baseline.
The first track peacefully drifts out of hearing and is followed by the clarity of a solo piano playing in ‘Råklipp’. The timbre is muffled and we can hear the soft sounds of the piano keys being pressed and lifted which gives us a sense we are very close to a private performance. The steady play of arpeggio-like figures are rhythmic but without any sense of tension. These are crystal-clear patterns like a dewy spider’s web struck by the sun. Using the middle range of the piano keyboard, this track has a simplicity and minimalism which is admirable and it ends in a crystalline treble chord of optimism.
An ambient soundscape returns for the third track ‘Patterns’, a title which could define the whole album. Having been given a solo track to breathe on its own, the piano now collaborates with Gibbs’s ambient textures. The plodding, journey-like character of this track recalls Warren Ellis and Nick Cave’s film soundtracks. The entry of strings around the 3 minute mark here is an epiphany, like the sun breaking through the canopy of a thick forest. At this point Gibbs resembles the best of Dustin O’Halloran, particularly his stunning album Lumiere, and this sombre and emotional track forms the majestic centrepiece to the EP. There is a sense of awe at nature here, a connection to something numinous.
The title of the next track ‘Contention’ speaks to its sombre and reflective character. The uncertain feeling to the opening ambient texture is complemented by almost sad- but more melancholic- triad piano chords. The time Gibbs leaves between these chords make this track very sparse, just on the edge of sadness. But his arpeggios then enter to drive the track forward and bring the sense of a willingness to continue despite life’s melancholy. As he gradually expands into the upper registers of the piano the emotional breadth of the piece grows fuller, and then we return to a repeat of the initial chords, giving the sense of an eternal return, which is appropriate to the stilled, nearly Zen and reflective atmosphere of the whole EP. Nature and life seem to move in cycles.
It’s followed by the guitar playing of ‘Bokeh’ which brings a bright, sunlit feel to the album, complemented by the twinkling dance of piano keys. With a swelling sound the track ends in a soothing major chord. If this was the album’s afternoon, it is followed by the evening effects of ‘Low Light’, which appropriately sits in the middle range of the piano. A sparse and simple melody is followed by arpeggiated figures.
The final track is called ‘Evoke’ and that it does- with sparsely separated treble piano chords soon aided by the powerful and warm undertow of a cello bass line. What the album has ‘evoked’ is down to the individual listener, though it’s hard to avoid the word ‘Autumnal’. Violins soon enter to take care of the higher registers, swallowing up the mellow piano which becomes surrounded by strings. There is a sense of settlement, though with the same sombre uncertainty and melancholy as has prevailed throughout ‘Adrift’, appropriate to its name. This full-bodied string sound is anchored rhythmically by the subtly percussive piano which then drops away before the strings fade to silence, though a silence now made somehow more enchanting.
Gibbs’s music is itself a sort of enhanced silence, a sombre, open sound which is neither intrusive or prescriptive but remains moving and gorgeous. Gibbs’s first solo EP rewards multiple listens and this reviewer looks forward to his future work.
written by Willow Jade