Crowhurst and Gavin Bryars – Incoherent American Narrative Review

Crowhurst and Gavin Bryars - Incoherent American Narrative 01The haze that settled over me as a result of taking a break from the hustle and bustle of work, giving myself a couple of weeks to recuperate from the end of the year list season, and consuming way too many of grandma’s holiday cookies has finally cleared. I swept away the cobwebs that accumulated on my writer brain and am finally back to the grindstone! Not knowing what to expect from Crowhurst and Gavin Bryars’s new album Incoherent American Narrative, I snuggled into a corner of my couch with a piping hot mug of mint tea at my side and put on my Sennheisers. Now that I have experienced the album more than a handful of times, the idea that keeps coming to mind is that of a sound collage. Sound collages, like their visual counterparts, are compositions created from “gluing” together various, oftentimes disparate, sound pieces. Incoherent American Narrative fits that description to a T.

Fraught with insecurity regarding his musical abilities, Jay Gambit of Crowhurst, a solo noise/black metal project which has been around since 2011, traveled to France in 2017 and became Gavin Bryars’s mentee. I hadn’t actually heard of British composer and arranger Gavin Bryars, who studied with John Cage (eek, fangirling triggered), before picking up this album. After a bit of sleuthing, I realized I was familiar with his work but just didn’t know it. He collaborated with Brian Eno on Discreet Music and was the founding member of the Portsmouth Sinfonia, the “world’s worst orchestra” consisting of people who had never touched an instrument before in their lives and musicians playing instruments they had no experience with. Portsmouth Sinfonia was a musical creation I learned about ages ago from my dad so I was curious to hear what Bryars is up to as of late. Gambit urged Gavin to provide him with abstract sound sources that he could chop up and distort. When supplied with snippets of live performances and instrument multitracks from old rehearsals, Crowhurst picked up the pieces and ran. The result of Gambit’s tedious work is a three-track/forty-nine-minute smörgåsbord of Gavin’s selected sounds carefully distorted and arranged in an ambient yet truly sinister package. 

Much like Sunn O)))‘s ambient drone metal, Incoherent American Narrative is a mesmerizing collection of tracks to get lost in. The ebb and flow of strings reverberating on metal in “Blistered Glaciers” and the eerie, echoing church bells of “Dead Swans of Dreams” are ominous and haunting. “Not Yet Ready for Flowers” sounds like the perfect soundtrack to the cave scene in HP6 when Harry must force Dumbledore to keep drinking a potion that hides a certain something despite Dumbledore’s utter detestation of and suffering at the hand of the drink. Intense fuzz, delicate coral voices, and the sounds of low rumbling in a cavernous room led me to this conclusion.

Crowhurst and Gavin Bryars - Incoherent American Narrative 02

Since I can remember, I have been drawn to artists who do this (I call it the Terry Riley-style cut-and-paste technique) construction of sound collages. From Paul Lansky and his vocal recording manipulations on notjustmoreidlechatter to anything from Amon Tobin‘s discography and even to David Hockney‘s photographic collages, this technique has been experimented with for decades. I was thrilled to hear a new ambient and abrasive take on this old technique. My biggest complaint with Incoherent American Narrative is the ill-fitting twinkling bells that emerge in the first minutes of the album on “Blistered Glaciers.” The cheesiness clashes with the bleakness of the rest of the album and sharply brought me out of the moment. Apart from this, the production is top-notch and the final track “Dead Swans of Dreams” drifts off to nothing in the final moments with just the right amount of mystery to leave you wanting more.

If you, like me, wholly enjoy closing your eyes and imagining a new album as the soundtrack to an imaginary movie in your head, this album is perfectly suited for you. Tensions are too high throughout the majority of Incoherent American Narrative, however, for it to be palatable and accessible for those looking for ambient chill-out music.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Prophecy Productions
Websites: crowhurst.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/gavinbryars | facebook.com/crowhurstnoise
Releases Worldwide: January 24th, 2020

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