Hamblett’s guitar playing is like a spontaneous vocal monologue. Some of the pacier fretwork mimics exclamatory rushes of speech, while the moments of hesitance see Hamblett scrambling for the appropriate phrasing for a strange and striking thought. The sudden dissonances of “Augmented” add jaunts of contradiction and abrupt verbal re-evaluation. The opening moments of “Stony Ground” drip gently like a soft apology. Elsewhere, plectrums attack like hard consonants and frets are choked to form glottal stops. While clearly chiselled into precise form, Hamblett captures this sensation of thoughts in urgent and seamless flow, casting ribbons of swooping melody and gentle, emotive adjustments in dynamic. In this way, he sometimes dips toward the jazz inflections of TNT-era Tortoise; at other points, I hear a skittish impersonation of the fingerplucked streams of James Blackshaw.
The rest of the instrumentation on Concrete flowers forth from this guitar. On “Nocturne”, the improvised drums of Thomas Heather scamper amidst the harmonies like a child hopping over pavement cracks. On “Skeleton Key”, mallet percussion hangs off each guitar note like globules of moisture, while organs and brass congregate around the central printer-jam whirr that holds the rhythm together. These accompanying textures enter and depart the frame like rotated theatrical props, allowing the album to splay into moments of grandeur – sentiments fortified by the swooping additions double bass drones or wordless choral voices – before shrinking, seamlessly, into spots of absolute solitude. It’s a beautifully orchestrated record, and despite the sense that many a meticulous hour was spent putting the pieces in place, there’s a pliability to Concrete that permits the indulgence of impulsive twitch and reflex.