Olan Mill have retained their uncanny ability to stretch time without ever laboring a theme or over-extending their work, that same step printed, slow motion movement as abundant as ever on their sophomore release, but if Paths represents a progression of their sound then it is, if anything, a reductive one.
'If you know of Alex Smalley and Svitlana Samoylenko’s Olan Mill at all, it will be through their debut album Pine released on Huw Roberts’ Welsh Serein label back in 2010, an emotionally charged, soupy, slow-motion whirl of electronically enhanced modern classical, plaintive and melancholy piano-solo pieces and atmospheric drone. Olan Mill have retained their uncanny ability to stretch time without ever laboring a theme or over-extending their work, that same step printed, slow motion movement as abundant as ever on their sophomore release, but if Paths represents a progression of their sound then it is, if anything, a reductive one.
The number of musical components in any single piece has fallen, track duration has generally risen and melodic simplicity or extended drone reigns. Nevertheless, you might still be surprised to discover that a mere thirty-two minutes have passed on completion of your journey down these six paths. This brevity is also something of a relief, as the emotional pitch of the albums’ six tracks is dialled up so high that anything more would probably be exhausting.
Not to diminish Smalley and Samoylenko’s own personal style in any way, but this evolution of their sound practically mirrors that of Deaf Center, and one of the album’s most impressive and lingering moments (“Amber Balanced”) is so close a match it could easily be mistaken for a track from Owl Splinters. Luckily Paths carves out its own niche, possessing a less oppressive personality that, had Erik K. Skodvin not ventured into wholly darker spaces, Deaf Center might themselves have adopted.
“Bleu Polar” opens, flooding the room with dense, opulent strings, a luxurious, velvety draping of gut-rumbling, pipe-organ bass washes, golden beams of higher-register synth strings and heartstring tugging bowed violin. Lilting piano was a focal point around which many tracks on Pine found themselves in orbit, but on Paths it makes a single fleeting appearance on “The Square is Porcelain,” flickering and wavering like moving water reflections beamed onto grey, brick walls. “Amber Balanced” is the album’s darkest hour, the increasingly despairing, lone violin strings twisted and plaintive, emerging ever more prominently from the thick black fog of processed pads and cloudy bass washes over the course of eight intensely moving but oddly suspended, slow-motion minutes.
Paths is extremely comfortable swinging light to dark and back again, and the very next piece (ickily entitled “Intestinal Flora”) begins with icy strings but also contains field recordings of running water and water droplets that gently thaw the soundscape in readiness for the final two pieces. “Eyes Closed (For Rube)” is infused with an abundance of warmth and affection, and the album closer, “Stalled Boson” is another drifting, swelling, organ-drone and strings-drenched piece that provides tonal balance and structural symmetry with side A’s “Amber Balanced,” the tone one of hope, relief, and a release from the rigours of the world.
Modern classical music often garners unfairly short shrift these days, and when an album as as emotionally potent, elegantly poised and tautly edited as Paths comes along this seems even more unjust. Sure, the genre may not be the most innovative or surprising, but thanks to a plethora of releases from artists like Johann Johannsson, Dustin O’Halloran, Peter Broderick, A Winged Victory For The Sullen, Deaf Center, Haushcka et al, it remains an extremely healthy, fertile and reliably rewarding landscape in which Olan Mill have confidently planted their banner. Buy without hesitation.
As mentioned in my review of Facture’s previous release by Scissors & Sellotape, label-owner Daniel Crossley’s commitment to delivering the highest calibre physical media possible and ensuring the customer receives the best possible value for their money almost beggars belief. Retaining the same essential presentation …For the Tired and Ill At Ease… the limited edition run is is another LP, CD and digital package. Housed in a premium, 3mm-spined sleeve adorned with highly evocative, crisp and yet strangely artificial looking photographic images, the LP is once again pressed on pure-virgin 180g vinyl for the best possible analogue reproduction money can buy. The glass-mastered CD is housed in a beautifully designed, letter-pressed white cardboard wallet with attached eight-page booklet containing On Rainbow Corner, a rather disturbing essay written by Vincent Vocoder, which may not be to everyone’s taste. A twelve-inch square, hand-numbered art-print of the front cover is also enclosed, along with a two-sided A3 poster with the cover image on one side and the On Rainbow Corner reproduced on the other. The whole thing is once again wrapped and sealed inside soft tissue paper and a heavily scented joss-stick was thrown in to scent the entire thing. Exquisite.'