Review: Leo Abrahams + Oliver Coates – Crystals Are Always Forming

Only the second ever release from Manchester’s Slip Discs, Crystals Are Always Forming resumes the label’s fresh-thinking meld of organic and artificial sources, this time homing in on a collaboration between the cello of Oliver Coates and the electronic conjurings of Leo Abrahams. But rather than burrow into a particular point of connection between them, the record is a restless search into the many ways in which these two source instruments can collide and interact; the pair sound unsettled by the thought of reclining into stasis, thus characterising the album by constant transitions and sudden atmospheric overhauls. As may be inferred from the record’s title, Coates and Abrahams are intent on bringing their partnership into tangible, gleaming physicalisation, while acknowledging that this can manifest in an almost infinite variety of shapes, the exact formations of which can only become clear through persisting with the collaborative pursuit.

And so the album shifts between the patient unfolding of the first track – long bowed drones, loose circuitry hum – into the more staccato and agitated movements of the second, which juxtaposes a steady heartbeat with the unease of quivering static and bursts of choked fingerplucking. Coates plays his instrument in every which way aside from that of traditional classical convention, preferring to explore the cello’s more percussive capabilities (first thumps against the body, clatters of bow against the neck) while emphasising the “imperfections” that arise in the croaking, stuttering contact between bow and string. Meanwhile, Abrahams utilises a predominantly lo-fi palette of interference and intercom crackles; an assortment of fizzing undesirables seemingly dragged out from disused radio frequencies, housing a mystical array of floating tone debris within the noise. The isolated collaborations between player and instrument are exciting to observe in themselves, with Coates and Abrahams proving capable of running in parallel, even when one or the other initiates an abrupt shift in direction.