CD Reviews

Saturday 28th July

July 29, 2012

A Congregation of Vapours is the recent, and to date most impressive album by the Dublin based composer/improviser/sound sculptor Fergus Kelly. Released on the Cork based Farpoint Recordings label, this set of eight pieces highlight some subtle and very welcome changes in Kelly’s solo work. If previous albums leant towards a more droning aesthetic, often blending vaguely metallic sounds with field recordings to produce compositions somewhere between musique concrete and the eighties industrial scene, so this new work doesn’t move a long way away, but introduces enough of a degree of variety to both the music’s palette and structure to pull the music on leaps and bounds. A Congregation of Vapours was recorded over two years, alone in Kelly’s Dublin studio, and the sense of loving craftsmanship and confidence in the material such a situation develops is clear here.

Much to Kelly’s credit, this is very difficult music to describe. The credited instrumentation ranges from speaker feedback and no-input mixing board through to field recordings, amplified metals and some computer processing. If Kelly has always managed to produce albums of richly textured, highly attractive sounds, then the difference with this new work comes through how the various elements are arranged. As the opening Freefall begins with a dirty splurge of gritty rough electronics and continues on for several minutes in a combatively noisy, perhaps ugly manner, the listening shackles go up, only for the abstraction to peel back and reveal a rushing, busy road recording underneath, only to again shift into calmer, purring tones and feedback whistles. The second track Vanishing Point blends a further riot of interestingly varied elements, metallic drones and smaller, sharper sounds suddenly displaced a few minutes before the end by some beautifully reticent little chimes, which hold their place before a sudden ending cuts the piece dead. Kelly often leans towards dividing tracks up into clear, often suddenly shifting sections. Pattern Recognition’s opening five minutes of what sounds like grating radio interference is suddenly displaced by the most disarming of soft hums sprinkled with occasional bits of clunky detritus, only for this section again to be overridden by an even softer section again, the music becoming gradually quieter as the piece progresses. Pressure Drop is a wonderful little two minute excursion, mixing understated dubby, popping electronic sounds with tiny grabs of recognisable field recordings. Footsteps, public spaces, clattering metal in resonant spaces all peak through the bass heavy but still very minimal layer of gloomy off-kilter pulse.

Throughout this highly listenable album nothing stays the same for too long, and there is a sense of exploration and adventure throughout, as tracks suddenly shift and new, often surprising elements appear. In his review of the disc Brian mentioned the cinematic qualities of the music, and I concur- a feeling of concrete styled cinema l’oreille is certainly present here.  These are the elements that add up to an additional feeling of (and I mean this in an entirely unpatronising manner ) maturity and confidence in the music that lets this disc sit as a significant leap forward for Kelly. ) A Congregation of Vapours is a fine album, thoroughly original and personal to Kelly but also a highly engaging, involving listen that seems (cliché ahead) to offer something new on each listen. Very much recommended, and wrapped in a very fine cover. Farpoint.

Comment (1)

  • Fergus Kelly

    July 30, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Many thanks Richard, for a such a keen and considered response. By the way, Farpoint are a Dublin based label. You could be forgiven for thinking they are Cork based, as they’ve done so much work down there, and there’s their group with Cork’s Danny McCarthy and Mick O’ Shea, Strange Attractor.

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