Review: signalsundertests – Nascent

There was no telling where Ricky Graham would go following Mecca, which was more of a gathering of a material than an album or EP as such. While this previous release showcased an interest in pursuing a multitude of different directions, his marriage of clean guitars and glacial electronics could be picked out (just) as the core from which each of these strands stemmed. Fierce cyber-crunches of rhythm were then underlain to form the title track, while various vocal collaborators guided this instrument basis into ethereal ambience and desolate, slow-burning rap.

The most immediately satisfying element of Nascent – which appears to be the first widely available full-length from signalsundertests – is that it can operate comfortably as one start-to-finish listening experience. Such focus feels like the aftermath of laying every aspect of his musical persona before himself via Mecca; now aware of which areas are most worthy of pursuit, he can take to each with a reinvigorated assurance. Nascent is, to use a broadly encompassing term, an “ambient” work, with the rhythmic element virtually ditched entirely in order to place emphasis on texture design and looser, cinematic narratives.

There’s some good stuff here. Some of the album evokes gigantic arctic caverns, in which sounds shimmer as glints of light catching on the ice. Other times a likeness to the depth and solitude of a space voyage feels more appropriate, as thicker swells of synthesiser chord rush up from beneath and pour in from the sides; guitars crackle into nothing like dying stars, with their slow-motion decay left to reverberate to the edges of the daunting imaginary stereo stretch. “Kapelle” stands out as a particularly engrossing moment, with electronics stuttering like drips of motion on a placid lake of drones. Meanwhile, closing piece “Ebb and Flow” lets feedback see-saw between pitches as a central wave of distortion drives forth and then recedes, with smaller streams of static breaking off and lapping up elsewhere.

But there are moments that fracture the album’s flow (which, on the whole, is permitted a rather smooth and nicely co-ordinated start-to-finish route). A sheened pop vocal cuts into the opening of “Keep Me”, slapped awkwardly over the track’s cathedral ambience and low bass pulses, while some of the most explicit bursts of solo guitar during “Axon” and the “Selah” interludes possess a human indulgence that jars with Graham’s escapist sonic landscapes.  Inversely, there are also occasions where the synthesizer constructs feel a bit too glossy and symmetrical, lacking in the characterising imperfections that etch life into Nascent’s sturdier moves.

While Mecca was a work that sought both the collaborative aid of others and expressed a desire to explore, Nascent sees Graham concentrate his efforts inwards. There’s still the overhanging sense that this is a “collection of works” rather than a singular item of many parts, but there nonetheless exists a consistent mindset (on part of the composer) or perhaps atmosphere (on part of the music) that threads the release together into one, allowing Nascent to burrow continually deeper into itself and take the listener along with it.