Review: Ned Milligan – Continental Burns

coverOn the artwork for Continental Burns, children are playing in the sea. The sky above is a cracked turquoise dusk – a mixture of faded photographic ink and the true colour of the evening. It’s not just the image that’s blemished with age and imperfect exposure. For the first half of this record, the organs and synthesisers are graced with a similar nostalgic erosion, with high frequencies faded until the sounds consist entirely of muffled mids and quivering bass hums. They drone like model train engines, or loop like tiny toys on rotating plinths; precious extracts of an idle past, cherished yet destined to decay, dulled by their increasing distance from the present tense. Aside from the peripheral presence of field recordings and delicate drones, I’m left alone with these textures; feeling the ridges in the organ vibrato, gazing into the harmonies that press into eachother romantically on “Serenade”. Such stillness undoubtedly places Continental Burns at the dead of night. I’m alone with a box of childhood emblems and forgotten notebooks, embracing the air of nostalgic contemplation that often descends upon the small hours.

As the second half of the record begins, there’s an atmospheric shift. Gone are the fleeting sketches of wistful recollection. Continental Burns unravels into 20 minutes of solemn drones that merge and then dislocate, weaving amongst themselves like a horizon line forever veering in and out of focus. The people and objects that occupied the first half have now all vacated; any quaint smiles or gentle gestures are now gone, leaving just a hollow landscape where the memories used to be. It’s a curious transition. When juxtaposed with the warmth of the opening 20 minutes, the stasis of this closing piece feels haunted by the imprint of recent human presence – like a shopping mall with trolleys still half-stacked with purchases, and rubbish strewn around overflowing bins. The drone is a prolonged echo; a silence that rings with the residue of a noise recently departed.