Album Review: Adam Stafford – Fire Behind The Curtain

Oh bollocks. I lack the vocabulary to do justice to this record. Any knowledge of minimalism I have is, well, minimal. That BBC4 documentary a few weeks back was enough to whet the appetite and draw out the musical and historical threads between things instinctively liked over the years. From the more direct lines running through the work of various Velvets through to the post-rock of Godspeed, the drones of Sunn O))), the sax textures of Colin Stetson and up and over numerous lighter notes such as Penguin Cafe Orchestra. And, appetite whetted, along comes Adam Stafford with a feast.

All of the above find their echoes here, plus doubtless 100 other things and plenty of new ideas. It might or might not be minimalist or neoclassical, but no matter – it’s terrific. Stafford’s previous album, Imaginary Walls Collapse, was great but his ideas felt a bit tethered to its ‘proper’ song structures. Fire Behind The Curtain is largely instrumental (though with plenty of vocal sound) and all the ideas, all the emotions, feel like they’ve been given the space to breathe, stretch out and then wander off.

The first part of the record is an intricate, unfolding machine – exquisite clockwork rhythms overlaid with careful guitars, warm strings, constructed choruses, even jaunty whistling. It culminates in Penshaw Monument, a 10 minute repeating, voice-driven piece. There’s a more unsettling and occasionally harsher edge to what follows, with more sinuous rhythms and a sense of frustration and even anger. It’s apparently reflecting on anxiety and depression amongst other things, but a sense of dread is never allowed to take over completely. Pastoral beauty and hope seep back in. When it’s done, it demands another listen, and another.

Fortunately, lacking the vocabulary and knowledge to do justice writing about this record is no impediment to falling for it. It’s wonderful.

Out on 4th May, the LP/download can be ordered from Song, by Toad

There’s also a couple of live dates to go with the launch:

3rd May – Summerhall, Edinburgh
4th May – The Hug and Pint, Glasgow

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