With Retold, British-Norwegian duo Huw Roberts and Otto Totland become experts in monochrome impressionism and gift 2010 and the Serein label with a solid debut.
Minimalism is the first word to come. From the faded bluish seashore cover picture of the white digipack to the singsong piano lines of introduction title “Lodge”, layered with digital pads and sampled breath, the impression is almost that of coldness and sadness. “Four notes into Kyoto”, and the richness in arrangements and crystal clear mixes bloom in all directions through the stark instrumentation. Plucked strings, a few electro treats, and field recordings shape out an intricate three-dimensional web. Or rather a lace, infinitely delicate and fragile. Piano again on “Marefjellet”, bass notes pounding like a clock, waves of white noise washing in and out. There is know-how in evoking a fully structured yet entirely fantastic soundscape. “Charlotte” fuzzy intro sets the bed for a haunting melody. A couple of notes only, skilfully enveloped, surrounded, underlied, take on the breathtaking radiance of a cloudless midsummer day.
Listen to “Charlotte”
It is not accidental if one is reminded of the sound of Miasmah Records here. Otto Totland and Huw Roberts both earned their stripes working there. Totland even partnered with present head of the imprint, Erik Skodvin, as duo Deaf Center (Type records). Roberts, on the other hand, is also founder of Serein records. Formerly devoted to free dowloads, Serein was rebuilt and revamped in 2009, turning to commercial CD releases, primarily to distribute Nest. A risky choice maybe. But a blessing for our ears and CD collections.
The duo’s unquestionable expertise in neo classical and dark ambient becomes more obvious with the fifth track. “Gad Goddeu” offers a more conventional atmosphere for the genre, but also introduces a broader, deeper sound. With a strictly specialised palette ranging from sound effects similar to Elegi’s Tommy Jansen on “Trans Siberian”, to the almost romantic, Max-Richter like piano phrase on “The Helwick”, the inherent variety never jeopardises the whole’s integrity and consistency. There is beauty, if not majesty, in “Far From Land” and “The Twelve”. Bowed strings, pads and sweeps build giant, monstrous, but quiet waves, only to be found in the high sea. Eroded mountains of water, rolling out to horizons, one after the other, endlessly, moving glints on the surface, fugitive shadows disappearing into the vertiginous depth.
Listen to “The Twelve”
Eventually, the drones of “Amroth” will bring the listener back to the shore, slightly dazed, as if awakening from hypnosis. Indeed, very few records are able to depict such complex sceneries with that little colours. Every nuance in the spectrum is suddenly conveying a unique significance and the world could be painted in all possible shades of blue with as much richness as if resorting to the full colour range, but with another perspective.
Far from discrediting the label, the fact that its founder is involved in this first gem is making us look forward to the next one, and to the unravelling of the Serein vision.
Buy Retold on CD or Digital release on Serein Records