There comes a time in many musicians’ careers when they decide to step out of the shadows of working as a side-man and announce themselves, and for Nathan Shubert, that time came last March on Piano Day 2016. That was the day the Vancouver pianist released Saga Norén, Länskrim, Malmö, and it immediately caught the attention of Nils Frahm, who added it to his Piano Day playlist and made sure his fans were aware of this new talent on the scene.
Elegant, diverse and distinct, the arctic vitality of Thomas Ragsdale’s ‘Bait’ – whose origins arose as the soundtrack to the Dominic Brunt film of the same name – tells a solemn and in places disquieting tale that stands well on its own, riddled with delicate nuance and a hyperborean conviction.
With tracks such as ‘Who Holds The Devil, Hold Him Well’ acting as a somewhat blissful introduction to the inevitably weighty and emotive chronicle that is to follow, immediately from the launch of this sonic anthology we are met with an intricacy and persuasion inclined towards that of rapturous energy. We are enticed deeper into the mellifluous warrens of Ragsdale’s dulcet environment as ‘Warning Mass’ seeks to lock our attentiveness with denser noisescapes and lacunar chords of pensive sureness, thus demonstrating the perfection of temper held throughout the album’s entirety.
The sure and unperturbed progression moves harmoniously through tracks, shifting with delicacy and effortlessness through frozen dawn vistas, hazes of dense nocturnal groves and sobering, raw woodscapes drenched in the swell of augury and foreboding as demonstrated in the album’s title track, which acts almost as a foretelling of later installations. We are confirmed this premonition of the coming dusk from the title of the following track alone, ‘A Sign Of Things To Come’, a prognosticatory birth of a trilogy of esoteric saturnine and melancholy, followed briskly by the cool shades of ‘The Dales’ and the second part of ‘Old Piano’ first experienced in the former half of our expedition along Ragsdale’s earnest voyage.
The aptly named ‘When All Hell Breaks Loose’ shatters this trance that has been so organically evolved with its sighing tendrils of light and warmth that seek to grasp and nurse us, waking us to the next level of consciousness firmly established, and the diversity, potentiality and capriciousness of the record’s title suddenly becomes more prevalent to the ear, as the sonic timeline inclines towards Stygian motivations, tones lowering to a caliginous, minacious disposition. Despite potential ominousness of this mid-late sitting, these pieces all display a subtle evolution that demonstrates a clearly refined skill set, focus and attention to detail; a recurring trait found across the album’s entirety.
As the final trinity of this pilgrimage of self-illumination and umbra comes to the foreground, we are taken along on the final branch of Ragsdale’s peregrination. ‘The Uncertainty Principle’ stands as the final act of the preceding darkness that was so steeped with the weighty sense of doom and quietus, thus ushering in a new light for the penultimate act ‘The Body’s In The Back’ which, despite its menacing title, strives to talk in a solemn and driving inclination, distant and wary. ‘To Send You Off’ is aptly named, however, striking the final tones of what has been experienced over the last forty minutes, highlighting the diversity, complexity and certitude displayed in this sonic narrative, as its wisp-like textures and cyclical undertonal movements serve as a humble and gentle conclusion to this ethereal body of work; a word that shows an intricate spectrum of variegation and sensation that is indeed most pleasing to experience.
by Ben Steed