Album review: Cahill/Costello – ‘Offworld’: contemplative dubspace, ambient and post-rock shimmer that steps gloriously out of time

The Breakdown

For a lover of the ambient and the dronesome, among which number I necessarily count myself, Offworld is as an astonishing debut, right up there with the top division of the field. Dubby, so very atmospheric; elemental, by which I mean, by turns scudding with squalls of rain and then fiery; intuitive, involving, and an incredibly fine case study to proffer in that defence of that proposition, that all art aspires to the condition of music. Buy.

KEVIN DANIEL CAHILL and Graham Costello, guitarist and drummer respectively, first set off on the path that would lead to them wedding as a musical act with an oblique and rapturous aesthetic when they met at Glasgow’s prestigious Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, at which Kevin was pursuing a classical music education and Graham, jazz; they bonded over a shared love of minimalism.

We were lucky enough to premiere their first single drop, “Io II”, named for Jupiter’s moon, at the end of last year; it’s pretty glorious, taking a stripped down approach, bringing the breaks nous of jazz in alongside chime and a certain post-rock sensibility, really calls to mind the chiaroscuro of pre-first album Bark Psychosis, that brilliant run of singles for Cheree. By god, did it leave us wanting more.

And finally, more is what we get, as the pair prepare to release a full-length exploration of their musical chemistry, Offworld; an analogue ambient delight, pregnant with emotion and remembrance and synaesthesia.

Following the concept of everything happening strictly within the moment; live you’ll be lucky enough to immerse in extended ambient improvisations and the aleatoric use of tape loops and soundscapes.

Offworld was recorded during August 2020 on location in Sanna, Ardnamurchan, the most westerly point of the British mainland, in the Scottish Highlands. The two spent a week there, living, rehearsing and recording together in that remote crofting and fishing, creating the music that would become their debut album.

During the course of the sessions their intent was to combine their different musical languages. The entire album was treated as a ‘live session’ in an attempt to capture the spontaneity of their coming together and their immersion in the breathtaking beauty and often darker history of this remote corner of the Highlands.

They stayed and created at Sanna Bheag, a house which was built in 1927 by M.E.M Donaldson, an English author and ethnographer, one of the first and only artists to document the rich culture of this community in writing and photographs before it was changed forever by the Second World War.

It proved the perfect location to chronicle their own interpretation of modern Scotland and a music for its interior life.

Graham Cahill (left) and Kevin Daniel Cahill create en plein air

“The Visitant” welcomes us to Offworld in a William Basinski-like degrading tape evocation, thick with dream-state atmosphere, looping in an elliptical orbit and overarchingly most reminiscent of the great Seefeel, through which the drums patter on what’s almost an entirely different meter, somehow both elements on different courses yet completely cohesive. Welcome, Graham and Kevin seem to say; this is our world. We’ll guide you from here. Let our sounds be your lamp.

The twin pillars of “Pavane I” and “II” draw their name from the slow, processional Hindu dance (and its dancers); and there’s your signpost for the pieces, the shorter first of which sees distanced classical guitar abut a meatier distorted thrum of the kind The Bug and Cabaret Voltaire usually callus their hands with. It’s puddle-dark, especially towards its conclusion, when the guitar slowly, so slowly, descends in arpeggio towards its fate, the hum and zizz of the lowering static greedy to welcome it.

The second part is more than twice the length and is less oppositional between its organic and its synthetic parts; gradually spins you into a web of guitar string resonance, slow-moving aural cloud scudding out on the horizon, into which you become slowly rabbit-snared. I swear you can hear the Western Scottish landscape in this track particularly, as the guitar is caressed many miles distant. When I was writing this, I found myself stuck in this track for more than an hour, looping back and back again. It’s a song without end; it unfolds so very gently, the drumming hushed, metronomic, some tape-looped ambience with the tiniest judder; imagine, if you will, Labradford’s Fixed::Context filtered through the sonic aesthetic of Flying Saucer Attack; so hazy, caught on the breeze, blown to you from some secret place. And it just gets quieter, concluding in a mesmeric percussive pattern of the kind Lee Harris laid down for Talk Talk; gliding, meditative. Devilishly clever in its seemingly simplicity and one of my tracks of the year.

“We Rebuild Them” stays fathoms down and exhales around a repeating shimmer of guitar and a fully submerged organ pattern; sprinkles that core with very occasional electronic-organic abrasion. And lets it be; it really doesn’t need to do anymore, you know. It’s absolutely perfect as it is, just what you need. The title track, “Offworld”, heads once more for the dubspace caverns of Seefeel, explores how that subterranea might sound in post-coital drift; slow ecstasy, the guitars picking up Guthriesque, sun-blissed colour, Graham unreeling a sparse break that heartbeats Kevin’s slow, warm riff against an almost East Kilbride wash of background feedback howl.

“And It Was Not Meant That We Should Voyage Far” is a fleet fragment of robust, tautly tuned drums, again recalling Talk Talk (and I’m specifically thinking that grand breakout at the end of “Desire”, here), which passes into another diptych, “Pylons I” and “II”; the great, sombre, industrial-pastoral monuments of post-war Britain, something also fixated upon by fellow countrymen Boards of Canada. And they set up in timing as with the earlier Pavanes; the first a shorter, darkening atmosphere of sustained note yaw and gathering cumulonimbus, Kevin’s guitar first extruding in crackle, the higher melody a pastoral shoegaze, intoning, building. It slips seamlessly into its companion second iteration, bridged by pulsing thrum, as Graham begins to incant a slow beat, lowering drone leaking through and the four-note spell of the first climbing through the electricity in the air. The sonic tension increases at a throat-tighteningly slow increment, the guitar thickening and fuzzing and arcing and finally surging up and out, a breathtaking postrock fire, charging at you. And you needed this release. it’s been building. Your lip curls. Feck. I was talking about a track of the year, before, do you recall? Yet another. One that, alongside Satan, Mogwai might fear.

“Avhin Saune”, the earlier Gaelic name for the Sanna Burn, the watercourse which runs through that far peninsular place of recording, wraps it up, and feels like the clean, clear air after the storm has discharged; that’s of course, if you’ve got here yet and you’re not swerving the arm back to the beginning of “Pylon II”, which I can’t discourage. But “Avhin Saune” has that aquatic woozy quality you get from Dirty Three guitarist Mick Turner’s solo outings (and I’m totally pointing you towards Marlan Rosa, in particular). It eddies, it’s pointillist, it brings you back down in a gentle wash ashore among distant, whispered resonance and foregrounded riff.

Cahill/Costello took themselves off to somewhere timeless, asynchronous even; and it informs every second of an excellent record. It has such depth, the occasional stern edge, its verdancy revealing the gneiss and granite and basalt of the western Scottish lands, it’s also very gradually amniotic, without in any way being twee; a thickly liquid sinking,

For a lover of the ambient and the dronesome, among which number I necessarily count myself, this is as an astonishing debut, right up there with the top division of the field. Dubby, so very atmospheric; elemental, by which I mean, by turns scudding with squalls of rain and then fiery; intuitive, involving, and an incredibly fine case study to proffer in that defence of that proposition, that all art aspires to the condition of music. Buy.

Cahill//Costello’s Offworld will be released by Gearbox Records digitally and on vinyl on September 10th and may be ordered now, either direct from the label or from the artists’ Bandcamp page.

Previous Album review: The Yugoslav Attack's modern take on traditional jazz is impassioned, unique and compelling: Sophomore album ‘Illusions’ out now via False Peak Records
Next Film Review: Ninjababy

1 Comment

  1. […] Over at Backseat Mafia > Album Review: Cahill/Costello – ‘Offworld’: Contemplative Dubspace, Ambient And Post-Rock Shim… […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.