In 2011, Devin Townsend released his fourth “project” album, ‘Ghost’. A record heard by millions, it combined ambient-ish qualities with a mellow style that showed off a very relaxed side of the man who once gave us skull-crushing metal as frontman with Strapping Young Lad. Around the same time that those millions were getting (rightly) excited about Devin’s ‘Ghost’, somewhere in Northern Ireland, guitarist Andrew Danso had not long finished work on ‘f i n d’, a collection of largely instrumental soundscapes which appeared to share more than a few traits with Townsend’s record, but approached atmospheric music with an even spacier slant. The album, unsurprisingly, slipped under the radar of most of the people who really should’ve heard it, as is the plight of many an independent musician.
Four years on, Danso returned with two new works: ‘Battery Acid’, a frenetic metal oriented extended track showing an entirely different side to his musical character and ‘Fly’, an EP of softer, echoing moments not so much a sequel, but designed as a companion to ‘f i n d’. It’s softer than ‘Battery Acid’, but not necessarily as smooth a musical ride as ‘Find’, as the opening track with attest. Throughout ‘Strive’, Danso doesn’t care much for easing the listener in with anything too soft, even though the end results could – at least in the broader sense – be considered ambient in places. A hard plinking sound akin to a detuned piano, though made with guitar strings lays a base at first, over which a clean acoustic melody weaves. From here, the melody becomes repetitive and circular, before Danso adds heavily treated vocals which aren’t always completely audible. His repeated refrain of “sailing away” does, however, give this opening track a sense of movement, of aiming for a destination. As the numbers progress and certain musical motifs repeat from song to song, it becomes more than obvious this feeling of forward looking and motion is totally deliberate. A reprise of the track swiftly follows adding a pleasing, echoing electric guitar and programmed drums for good measure. On the one hand, this beefing of the sound builds on an already good musical idea; on the other, the choice of drum sound gives away the recording’s homespun origins.
Of these tunes, it is the title track which fares best. A circular guitar motif with hard plucked strings provides something of a rhythmic base as before, over which the more interesting elements of the tune are then built. The hard strings break free, adopting a slightly broader style, while tinkling sounds resemble a detuned piano, bass drones fill out the sound and Danso’s multi-tracked voice appears to offer a wordless refrain; the breathing is often audible, the lyrics not. The combination of acoustic and electric sounds with voice acting as extra instrumentation is just fantastic – easily Danso’s masterpiece at the time of release. In keeping with this being a suite as opposed to individual tracks, many of ‘Fly’s key moments can be heard weaving throughout ‘Double’ – the main guitar refrain is very similar, the vocal almost as other-worldly at first… And then, once this is established, it falls away completely to reveal beats, a touch of bass and echoed plinking sounds. Hints of Matt Stevens’s loop guitar work can be heard here and while not necessarily as technical, Danso’s concerns with repetition and ambient moods yield enjoyable results. ‘Snow Falling In Moonlight’ brings many of the previous sounds and themes full circle, the high point of which finds Danso plucking acoustic guitar strings over a drone that almost sounds like a the rims of a thousand glasses played back through a distorted amp. His melodic, breathy vocal style is at front and centre here – the influences from Devin Townsend’s ‘Ghost’ epic at their most obvious, perhaps giving this EP it’s strongest selling point.
‘Fly’ cannot be broken down into individual pieces of music effectively; its many tones and layers beg to be heard as a whole; nor is it always as accessible as ‘f i n d’, it’s dense multi-layering taking some time to pick apart. The fact that it is so clearly designed as a concept piece only makes it’s wandering nature all the more appealing.