I imagine that Kang’s string arrangements for Sunn 0)))’s “Alice” helped to introduce his name to numerous new ears within a whole new stylistic listenership sector; myself included. Listening to The Narrow Garden for the first time, I was immediately struck by a slight atmospheric crossover between his contribution to “Alice” and his own work – both share an ability to feed slithers of light into darkness and vice versa, resulting in a mood that never stops to rest for too long in either positive or negative states. Gloomy shadows bear bright shades of colour, while moments of upliftment feel haunted by a stomach-sick disconcertion.
For The Narrow Garden, this atmosphere finds itself carried between various stylistic terrains: through the playful, middle-Eastern tinged percussion and playful ribbons of melody of “Forest Sama’i”, into the dissonant string mutations of the title track, through the medieval diversion of “Mineralia” and then upward into the repetitious release of “Invisus Natalls”. The title of this work seems to sonically manifest itself in a variety of different ways: as a work with a greater emphasis on the “vertical” than the “horizontal” (tracks develop by mounting melodic variations on top of a single idea, rather than moving through chronologically sequenced sections), and as a work that flourishes with both organic beauty and undertones of claustrophobia and unease.
The most alluring aspect of the album is the way in which melody often moves as in twisting, dancing streams – there’s a concrete conviction within the mercurial cascade, like an enlightened mind that acts with both grace and assertion simultaneously. With that in consideration, those melodic elements that are either too simplistic (“Pure Nothing”) or more aimless (the unnecessary flute solo of “Invisus Natalls”) carry considerably less appeal. Kang possesses the wonderful ability to retain a lively spontaneity within his precise, pre-determined composition, and The Narrow Garden is at its best when it showcases this. Thankfully, that’s most of the time.