‘Shifting’ sees Nottingham-based guitarist Charlie Ulyatt shift away from the stark lyricism of his previous releases, to explore a palette drawing on drone and free improvisation. The wide, slow unfurlings of last year’s ‘Dead Birds’ are replaced by a series of icy, frictave gestures that seep outwards in several directions at once, their momentum unstoppable even if their velocity is, at times, almost indiscernable. But if tonality is almost entirely absent, the intensity of Ulyatt’s textural forays more than makes up for it. If ‘Dead Birds‘ and its follow-up ‘Do Not Forget Old Friends’ were ferns, their skeletal forms at once ancient and vibrant, ‘Shifting’ is as ashen and minimal as lichen. The flat, low-temperature crawl of a track like ‘Erasing Angels’ is impassive, enigmatic, unwavering. Yet vestiges of life still emanate.
The sound-world Ulyatt deploys here is determinedly narrow. The scrape of plectrum along strings, the yowl of Ebow and various percussive clunks recur in different combinations throughout, with the commonality suggesting a series of variations on a theme rather than individual sonic artefacts. Everything is drowned in cave-like reverb, that gives the album a chilly, alienated feel while emphasising its tiny details. In ‘A Taste of Ore’ this rare touch of production ups the fatigued hypnosis of its heavy bass drones and woozy, arco-like swoops, evoking a Neolithic free improv crew jamming out a session during the final, exhausted stages of a post-Mammoth hunt jamboree.
Ultimately, it is intensity rather than variation that makes ‘Shifting’ such a compelling listen. Ulyatt has decided on his parameters and sticks doggedly to them, his wilful focus exerting an unbreakable gravitational pull that draws all but the most disengaged listeners into an circling orbit. ‘Melody In Paranthesis’ sees brittle, plucked notes murmur plaintively against a background of percussive jolts and gravelly scrapes, the flinty demeanour as compelling as it is austere, until outbreak of tunefulness about halfway through, clusters of thick springy notes erupting from the underlying scree. Almost Bailey-like in its combination of disconcerting harmonic intervals with submerged jazz conjurations, it’s an inspired outbreak of illumination, its brevity making it all the sweeter.