Album Review: Steve Bates – All The Things That Happen: Elemental sounds for a wild world.

The Breakdown

‘All The Things That Happen’ is an album that demands listening to and thinking about carefully. Dramatic, awe-inspiring moments, created through a flourish of electronics and effects, it gouges out an unpredictable, impactful path of its own.
Constellation 8.9

Some ‘ambient music’ can often come across as ambivalent, leaving the listener floating but uncommitted, relaxed but possibly underwhelmed. ‘All The Things That Happen’, the debut solo album from Canadian musician and sound artist Steve Bates (available from Constellation 23rd September), could superficially pick up the broad ambient tag except this fine record gouges out a much more unpredictable, impactful path of its own. Not that this was always the intention, Bates has said himself that ‘All The Things That Happen’ started out leaning towards ambience before spiraling off dynamically because, staying true to his influences, he ’kept reaching for more texture and noise’.

With a background rooted in the Winnipeg anarcho-punk community through the 80s to exploring the more avant/experimental territories over the past decade, his bio reveals someone in restless pursuit of creative possibilities. Probably best known for his part in the post-rock collective Black Seas Ensemble and his electronic releases through ‘The Dim Coast’ label with Godspeed’s Timothy Herzog and Sophie Trudeau as well as Big Brave, his work has always had an edge sharpened by political commitment. His work with community art projects and solidarity with the Canadian activist community is integral to the music he produces. So what started out as an idea to develop a record from the pared down basics of his well-worn Casio SK-1 keyboard sampler was always destined to become more fractious and leave a deeper imprint.

Consequently ‘All The Things That Happen’ is an album that demands listening to and thinking about carefully. It makes less sense played on shuffle or fractured on Spotify. That’s not because there’s a prog-concept plotline to unravel but as a result of it having a resounding emotional structure, each of the notional nine episodes (or tracks) dependent on what has come before and what it leads onto. Yes, ‘All The Things That Happen’ is an album that definitely evolves and you grow with it.

Searing in with the distorted, droning fanfare of ‘Groves of….Everything !’, Bates introduces us immediately to something subterranean, otherworldly and slightly disorientating. Elegant organ tones strain to break from a tumbling undercurrent of static which gradually engulfs this slow core processional. As prologues go this is brave and bold, leaving you waiting for something to grasp onto. Relief soon arrives with the rippling, melodic loops of ‘These problems are multiplied by the difficulty I have in front of a tape recorder’. More tangible, tonal and touchable, here Bates reveals something personal, the Casio sounding as homely as a chapel harmonium. Even the gentle oscillations and restrained floating pulse recalls the elegance of Phaedra-era Tangerine Dream or the quiet grace of Sarah Davachi’s Hammond explorations.

In this opening pairing Bates seems to be marking out the extremes of the ‘All The Things That Happen’ continuum, the expansive and the insular, the chaos and the calm, preparing you for the pivotal moments in the trio of pieces that follow. ‘Glistening’ begins with droplets of notes making hopeful progress against the gathering storm of feedback until, in a brilliantly crafted transition, the uncontrollable recedes to leave a soothing simple tune that chimes purely. ‘Covered in silt and weed’ follows a similar circular path to echoing resolution, all monotone chords, eerie harmonics and fluttering interference while ‘Destroy the palace’ marks a distinct shift in momentum. Opening with a cloistered organ, only the muffled rumble beneath the tune’s progression provides a hint of the climactic disintegration which follows. It’s an unrestrained avalanche of sound, complete demolition at work that has the air of finality about it.

Although these dramatic, awe-inspiring moments, created through a flourish of electronics and effects, are central to the album’s identity, from here Bates perceptively eases away from the template. As ‘All The Things That Happen’ reaches the final third a loosely defined post-rock dynamic steers the record to its conclusion. ‘Glimpse an end’ takes the ebb and flow of gliding string tones shimmering on a tide of Sigur Ros swoon whereas ‘Bring on the black flames’ is built on scrambled riff signals, more angry, more defiant, more math. It’s then left to ‘We do not, nor to hide’ to complete this segment, decaying like the breakdowns which Divide & Dissolve explore, the lone soft keyed melody yearning defiantly above the noisy core.

Bates chooses to bring some closure to the record with ‘September Through September’, a sparse, restful piece played on a slumbering Hammond. Dedicated to Victor Jara, Chilean singer and left wing activist, the tune’s sombre glow flickers with hope and maybe signals a way forward. As the warm tones fade you are left to reflect on ‘All The Things That Happen’ and the narrative that has shaped its often extraordinary soundscape. The unstable, destructive cacophony, the tender passages of calm, echoes of the threat of power and the fragility of something more innocent. On his debut album Steve Bates is making a statement, asking the questions but also suggesting the answers and that is some achievement.

Pick up a copy of ‘All The Things That Happen’ by Steve Bates from your local record shop or direct from:

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