It’s winter, and you’re outside. The sky is grey. You’re walking around a garden, or crossing a heath, or hiking a moor. It’s cold. Apart from some rough grass, plants are few and far between. A solitary crow flaps in the distance. As you put one foot in front of the other, cagoule hood up, gloved hands in pocket, you begin to notice things. The small buds on the tree. The first blades of daffodil poking through the earth. The bugs in the river you’ve just crossed. You realise that winter isn’t a time of death. It is a time of gradual renewal.
Listening to Fells’ Waking induces a similar, slow-dawning awareness. At first, the barely-there tonal drifts seem almost inconsequential, a too-sparse recital of ambient tropes in which the balance of absence and presence is unfairly weighted to the former. But what seems initially to be icy disengagement soon reveals itself as a call to slow yourself to its gelid pace, to delve into the onionskin layers of filmy coo like a rabbit crawling into its burrow to hibernate, its heart rate slowing and body temperature dropping. Who knows what such creatures dream of when they sleep like this, but surely the slow tendrils of icy drone that seep into being during the hour or so of Waking’s runtime would be an adequate soundtrack. While it’s not immediately clear exactly how those wonderfully chilly sounds are created – one might hazard a guess towards some combination of foggy synth patches, steely sine tone, muted feedback, and perhaps even some bowed cymbal processed into a long drone of white metal. But gradually those long, overlapping undulations coalesce into atonal beauty and move from diffident to sublimely expressive, those minimal gestures all the more powerful for being so understated.
If, like me, you’d come to Fells after hearing their split with Culver on Invisible City Records, you might be surprised by the tenor of Waking’s sub-zero haze. The glassy, sadface guitar loops that Fells ties up against Culver’s trademark wall of doom seem to point in a different direction to the languid freeze stretching out here. True, both pieces lock into a meditative, sombre mode, and if you’re searching for a stylistic bridge between the two works you need only point your mouse to the Fells Bandcamp, in particular October’s Well and its follow-up Well – Piano Loops. Both albums use the slow rhythmic repetitions of looped instrumentation and field recordings to create works of becalmed introspection, their varied rumbling undulations creating a circadian soundtrack for wintering out. Best is the stuttering, muffled loom of Tapestry, from Wells, its echoing piano clangs stumbling around in a locked groove shuffle while reverb overtones and muddy hums poke out through the gloaming. It’s rare for the worlds of ambience and loop-splicing to come together so well, but here they do. Fells may be new to me, but their icy solace is strongly recommended.