It’s ironic that the only thing the human race can be relied upon to do consistently and in unison – growing old – is the one thing many of us would prefer to avoid. Too often, signs of ageing are viewed with suspicion and contempt; a sign of weakness. But with maturity, comes many accepted virtues that radically change how we view the world and how we live our lives. A fleck of grey in your hair may be enough to send you hurtling towards the pharmacy, but realizing you’re not the kid who piles his plate sky high with swill at a buffet anymore brings gratuity, too. The awareness that less is sometimes more is arguably the most pleasing facet of growing older. Taking infinite pleasure from things you scorned in the past, like sitting still, or a nice hot cup of tea becomes an essential, guilt-free part of life.
And so, over the years, such changes affect our listening habits too. Our childhood ears are filled with kaleidoscopic, Kool Aid coloured sugar trips. Our teens are often soundtracked by angsty, loud and raucous noises, until most of us diverge. If you’re reading this, the chances are you have followed some meandering indie path that will continue well into later life; as have I. But as the years roll by, this sense of less is more becomes increasingly prominent on my musical radar. Lyrics no longer earn the primacy they once did. A clever arrangement can pack just as much feeling as a turn of phrase and if a picture is worth a thousand words, then what price a devastating chord change?
Berlin based American composer Dustin O’Halloran is skilled in the art of extracting emotion. His compositions are subtle, yet powerful. Lumiere, his first release for FatCat’s 130701 imprint, glides along over nine tracks, pushing buttons, suggesting sentiment, but never forcing one in particular. The album is a chameleon: whatever your mood, listening to this will allow you to wallow in it. Whilst this could masquerade as background music for any purpose, there is a deceptive intensity here that warrants continued listening,, a trait shared across the finest contemporary composers, from Richter to Arnalds, from Chauveau to Muhly. Only once you’ve been sucked in, do you realize the depth of the rabbit hole you’re occupying.
From the opening track, ‘A Great Divide’, O’Halloran raises the concept of thaw: the icy tinkling of light percussion, washed over, like daybreak, by the warmth of rising strings and sparse piano. It’s evocative and it’s brilliant. Even having played this album through the freezing, dark winter, the suggestion of spring is never far from the listener. Throughout, there is the uncluttered feel of a new start, breaths of fresh air and life. ‘We Move Lightly’ is loaded with hope and anticipation: the rising piano arpeggio being drawn towards something special and invigorating by the strings that surround it. The simple, sextet of notes that marks the climax of album centerpiece ‘Fragile No.4′ is breathtaking.
That O’Halloran conveys all of this so minimally, is startling. What he does seems paradoxically raw and contained. The tracks of Lumiereare bursting with ideas and swathes of passion, yet are kept in check scientifically and methodically. As a singular piece of music, you’ll have to go a long way to find one more engulfing than this: this album will consume you.