Album Review: Jon Hassell – Seeing Through Sound (Pentimento Volume 2)

When Brian Eno has touted you as ‘the most influential composer of the last 50 years’, when you’re credited as raising cultural awareness with your ground- breaking Fourth World Music, when you’ve spent over 80 years on this planet, you might be tempted to kick back a little, put your feet up and bask in your hard -earned reputation. Jon Hassell, instrumentalist and soundscape pioneer, obviously has no intention of taking that easy option. Sure he had a break to re-calibrate in 2009 after 16 albums, numerous productions and collaborations but then he re-emerged in 2018 with the genre defying, shape shifting ‘Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume 1)’. Now comes the second volume in the Pentimento series, the intriguingly titled ‘Seeing Through Sound’, available from 24th July on his own Ndeya label.
Although he presents ‘Seeing Through Sound’ as a companion piece, this staggering new record is so much more than a consolidation. On Volume 1 each track was defined by its own instrumentation and rhythms. Despite the daring use of electronics and treatments you could latch onto a trumpet phrase or piano part. With Volume 2 Hassell has created music that is more abstract and fluid with layers that merge then detach, beats that pulse then fade and moods that subtly shift before you notice the change.
The album is framed by opening and closing tracks of epic proportions. ‘Fearless’ begins the journey, a glorious eight minutes of metronomic, Can-like, grooves with swirling synth waves and distant horn punctuations. It’s a dark nocturnal trip that takes you along a futuristic super highway and deep into some dense forest, somewhere, some time. ‘Timeless’, the albums closer, has similar filmic sweep with an escalating melody built by electronic strings and beats that judder with dub reverberations. It is a track that never drifts, it simply hovers.
Between these beginning and end points, the other six tracks on ‘Seeing Through Sound’ each make a meticulous contribution to the overall record. The lush sunrise texture of ‘Moons of Titan’ unfolds to the deepest, softest bass pump. ‘Unknown Wish’ moves from fractured electronic scrambles through a rumbling dub funk section and down to a spooked gothic soundscape. There’s a whisper of space-jazz and trip-hop in ‘Delicado’ while ‘Reykjavik’ and ‘Lunar’ are more indefinable IDM abstractions that scuttle and bubble without losing any sense of purpose or direction.
It is that overall focus that makes ‘Seeing Through Sound (Pentimento Volume 2)’ such a compelling record. There is no ‘faff’ here, everything is so beautifully considered and very much in the right place. Jon Hassell remains a composer and musician who ‘paints with sound’ and in many ways ‘Seeing Through Sound’ can be a visual experience. It is an album that demands listening, requires your time and makes you imagine.

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