Review – “Theia & the Archive” – Ian William Craig

reviewed by Jack Derricourt

Vague is a funny thing to call a label. Usually, underground hucksters go for a slice of the bizarre — I’m looking at you Bruised Tongue. But the recently launched Vancouver tape label is not afraid to leave prospective listeners in the dark. They like it that way.

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Composer/ visual artist Ian William Craig is one third of the label’s initial catalogue. Plugged by Vague in a crisply-written piece of PR as ‘music any Ambient Eno fan will be down with,’ Craig’s newest work, Theia & the Archive is an intriguing compendium.

The best way I can think of describing the recordings is ‘sonic immersions,’ as they are not sound collages, and the amount of space, even in the shorter pieces, is striking. Tape hiss and crackle are mainstays on the recordings.  The production certainly suits the subject matter. Thematically, the compositions are preoccupied with catastrophe and a long winter (see “Our Loosening Orbit”), concepts that any survivor of Xmas, 2014 will appreciate.

With an Overture to kick things open and a Requiem and a Reprise at the end, the cassette has a large foot in the world of hardcore composition. It doesn’t really matter though, when the sounds are as captivating as they are. Form is really the busywork of artists anyways — whether it’s hidden or out in the open. The sound matters most, especially if that ole requiem is being cast onto magnetic cassette tape (the plebeian medium of choice).

Thankfully, listeners will find themselves enthralled by the collection of noises constructed by Craig. “The Always Mountain” plots a slow, heavy course at the outset of the record, and the synth work featured at the start of the release demonstrates Craig’s ear for traditional melody as well as the avant garde. “A Small Piece of Winter” is a sliver of silence that charismatically betrays a greater track (see “Our Loosening Orbit”), and possibly one of the most heartwarming uses of echo I’ve chanced upon.

Vague wants you to push yourself with their recordings. They don’t want to deliver tasty music to your door in gooey, cheese-dripping notes. They want to drag you down to a tiny restaurant beneath a barbershop and shove a plate of crisply incongruous blue matter in front of you, egging you on. It’s not a comforting experience, this new Craig cassette; but then again, it doesn’t want to be.

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

Top Tracks: “Our Loosening Orbit” ; “The Always Mountain”

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