Drumming and making ambient soundscapes is not a well populated intersection on the musician directory Venn diagram but Jim Wallis sits comfortably within that quirky enclave. Perhaps best known for his stick wielding in Modern Nature, Still Corners and Psychic Markers, he’s also a producer/mixer/engineer (recent credits include Bryde and Ellie James) plus one of those despicably talented multi-instrumentalist people (handy on piano, keys, dulcimer, violin and cello as well as the kit). Given such a skill set, channelling his creative range into composing and shaping instrumental music is not such a surprise.
His first release as a solo artist in 2020, the dark ambient ‘Europa’ was drawn from the soundtrack that Wallis created for renowned Rwandan director Kivu Ruhorahoza’s tense, multi-layered movie of the same name. ‘The Pool’ followed in 2021, a collaboration with artist Nick Goss, reflecting on Nick’s time in residence on a working oil tanker that captured the reality and the surreal vastness of the indefinable ocean. Field recordings, guitar loops, electronics and cello filled a record of deep resonance. So the new Jim Wallis solo offering ‘In Huge Gesturing Loops’, available now on Tip Top Recordings comes with expectation and intrigue attached.
As seems to be the Jim Wallis way, there’s a back story here as to how this glacial beauty of a record came about and how the country music staple, a pedal steel guitar took hold of the album’s heart strings. Originally the idea for The Pool’s follow up was a set of more orthodox songs, a project that Wallis eventually moth-balled though not before Danny and the Champs pedaller Henry Senior was called on for contributions. However, although the song writing idea stalled, Wallis found a way forward during a studio doodle session. As he remembers it “There was a moment in the studio where I muted everything except Henry’s pedal steel takes on a particular song and played them back together at half speed. I realized immediately there was something magical there and much more unusual and interesting to pursue than what I’d been working on”. From here the ideas for ‘In Huge Gesturing Loops’ unwound and brought us to where we are today.
The magical, unusual and illusive all curl around each other on the album’s opener Set My Watch To You, co-written with Senior, whose pedal steel chimes in and remains pivotal to this emotional rollercoaster of a tune. Pleading, climbing and setting off electronic ripples of voices and strings, it’s a track where you can almost sense the ghost of a song drifting between the delicate layers. Senior’s sublime gliding chords also guide Parachute through its gradual descent while the briefest guitar loop counts down to landing. It’s that tiny pulse which brings something much closer to the listener beyond the panoramic soundscapes. As with his previous albums, the aura may be ambient but the feelings Wallis is touching on appear less neutral.
Ciphers shifts slightly in tone but still maintains this reflective undercurrent. To say the tune is a drone would smooth over the Max Richter like intricacies at work, it’s somehow more of a deep sigh. A single coded piano note taps messages while Senior’s guitar adds occasional melodic comment. Snatches of found sound make suggestions, rustling, typing, movement, human sounds, all pointing to time passing. Wallis has said that the album’s title ‘In Huge Gesturing Loops’ comes from Phillip Larkin’s poem ‘I Have Started To Say’ in which the great poet dissects the melancholy of middle age. So perhaps those feelings seeped into this album, making for a mid-life crisis soundtrack that looms gracefully.
One of the defining elements to this album is that Wallis manages to keep this immersive music buoyant. With subtle variation and an ear for warm harmonies there’s no danger of drowning in sound. With subtle variation and an ear for warm harmonies there’s no danger of drowning in sound. Floating Opposites takes a simple piano (or maybe dulcimer) loop and grows a quivering dream wave around it, edging the close to the ambient country of SUSS or Michael Scott Dawson (which is no bad thing). Then on the extraordinary Peripheral Vision, the soulful conversation between Will Dollard’s trumpet and Senior’s pedal steel raises spirits of some music that exists just behind you, nudging you on.
So there’s a hopeful tension flowing through this recording similar to Wallis’s work with Modern Nature. On the surface you might not associate uplift with an album of calmly considered slow music but from the outset ‘In Huge Gesturing Loops’ looks to your well-being. That’s why the six tracks never feel like hard work and the whole journey flies by. Before you know it the closing title track is steadily building around you, elegant and wonderful, the pedal steel singing over a voiced drone of Davachi intensity. It marks the only end there could be to an album that’s both peaceful and profound, which has something to say and its own way of saying it.
Get your copy of ‘In Huge Gesturing Loops’ by Jim Wallis from your local record store or direct from Tip Top Recordings HERE