A-Sun Amissa (nope, me neither) is latest vehicle for the work of Gizeh Records founder Richard Knox, who also makes experimental and neoclassical music as Glissando and The Rustle of the Stars. He’s joined on Desperate In Her Heavy Sleep by Angela Chan and Owen Pegg to take us back to the days when Godspeed You! Black Emperor came into our lives with their dark and apocalyptic music, warning of pre-millennial doom and despair. Effectively it’s 1998 again, and it’s a creepy and unsettling time and place to be.
To be fair to A-Sun Amissa, theirs is a stripped-back version of the apocalypse as there’s only three musicians here compared to the multi-member Godspeed, but this doesn’t stop the album from oozing gloom from every pore. The setup sees Knox’s tremolo guitar matched with cello and violin to create a series of droning, chilly and cyclical movements that never let up in their moody ambience. It’s an interesting change in direction for Knox and co., given that his last release as The Rustle of the Stars had notes of beauty, similar to the A Winged Victory for the Sullen’s self-titled record of last year, the beauty coming from tonal variation. With Desperate In Her Heavy Sleep, though, it’s very much a case of “abandon hope all ye who enter here”. There’s nothing that truly sparks: no rising piano note out of the gloom, no change in pace, nothing that would make you sit up and take notice and think “Where the hell did that come from?”
And yet, I still like various parts of this record. I like the way the church bells of ‘Arm In Arm To A Full Awakening’ cede to trembling guitar and organ that’s a reminder of Labradford’s approach to making music. Also good are the scraping, metallic strings and electric rumble of the epic ‘Dislocated Harmony’, and the highlight – the lovely orchestral swell of ‘A Hungover Whisper’: a gathering storm of a piece of music, with some virtuoso violin work that’s both mesmerising and a pleasure to listen to. The closing piece, ‘Ceremony’, acts as a link back to the start, with a church organ and ambient background matching the opening notes of the record, and is a calming ending.
But I return to the lack of spark: there’s nothing that really stands out, nothing that would make me want to immediately hit play again once I’d listened to the end, and that’s because the gloom never lightens. I’m not saying that there needs to be an upbeat moment to dispel the mood, just some variation. Look at Godspeed, and how they’d use spoken word, radio static or drums to vary the tone, or even Josh T Pearson from a different genre of music: sure, the music is incredibly downbeat, but there’s a captivating story being told. There’s no doubt, however, that I’d keep listening to the work of Richard Knox, with A-Sun Amissa or any of his other outfits. He’s making experimental music and taking risks with his art, and although it doesn’t always work out wouldn’t we rather have this than settle for conservative, risk-free music making?