Transporting, immersive ambience meets art history lesson. Bonus
Our story begins in 1632, with Rembrandt’s painting ‘The Anatomy Lesson Of Dr Nicolaes Tulp’, in which the good doctor is pictured dissecting a cadaver for a group of bearded men who all look vaguely similar – a bit like 17th century hipsters.
Forward to 1995, and WG Sebald’s novel, ‘The Rings Of Saturn’, which as well as detailing the narrator’s walks around Southwold in Suffolk, includes a chapter discussing this very painting. Sebald argues that the cadaver, a recently executed felon by the name of – wait for it – Aris Kindt, is ignored by the preening medical hipsters. According to him they’re way more interested in Dr Tulp’s textbook than they are in the corpse under their noses. In other words, they neglect the physical in favour of theory. Though present, Kindt becomes a memory. He disappears.
And so to ‘Floods’, an album inspired by Sebald’s interpretation of Rembrandt. Placing Kindt front and centre, it plays with sound and memory in much the same way that the painting, according to Sebald, plays with the viewers’ expectations. Of course, as is always the case with such conceits, the success of the concept is in the ear of the beholder. But even taken on its own terms it’s a superb record. An involving and atmospheric work, chilly, layered and dense.
The Aris Kindt of ‘Floods’ is two men: producer Francis Harris and guitarist Gabe Hedrick. Harris runs experimental house label Scissor & Thread, while his acclaimed 2014 album ‘Minutes Of Sleep’ took the genre and coaxed it into gorgeous meditative shapes. If you know that album then you’ll recall that its first two tracks, ‘Hems’ and ‘Dangerdream’, are heavy on beatless atmosphere, and it’s no coincidence they both feature Hedrick on guitar. Teaming up here, the duo stretch their wings in similar style, using drones, ambient textures and submerged melodies to take us further from clubland and into even more more sepulchral spaces.
While ‘Minutes Of Sleep’ took its inspiration from house, ‘Floods’ takes the road less travelled. Tracks like ‘Now Grey’ and the outstanding, narcoleptic ‘Blue Sky Shoes’ use the kind of fuzz provided by Suicide or Spacemen 3 as a starting point, decaying the music into dreamy, fogbound soundscapes. You’ll search in vain for the wide-eyed celestial shimmering beloved of shoegazing-meets-electronica types like M83 or Ulrich Schnauss. ‘Floods’ is as downcast as it is downtempo. The album fair shivers, with tracks like ‘Every New Thing’ having more in common with the frosty hypnosis of Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas or James Kirby’s work as The Caretaker. On ‘Embers’, meanwhile, it drifts into destroyed dub-techno territory.
The final track, ‘Braids’, finds Harris in a reverie of childhood. And the fact that it features Hedrick’s guitar at its most prominent only serves to highlight a lack of structure and separation elsewhere. Fittingly on an album so concerned with memory and spectral presence, it’s both there and not there. So intricately woven are the sounds on ‘Floods’ that, like the cadaver of Aris Kindt, they disappear.