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Last Days – Windscale

Last Days – Windscale

is the sixth long player that Last Days (aka Northumberland ambient composer Graham Richardson) has released for the n5MD imprint. That label famously seeks out the more emotional aspects of the IDM/post rock scene and via Last Days they have been mining gold ever since debut album Sea revealed a musician of grace, elegance and poise. A typical Last Days album soundtracks an imagined journey, be it literal or metaphorical. Windscale actually takes a literal case, taking its inspiration from the Cumbrian Nuclear Plant of the (then) same name. Sadly Windscale was the scene of the UKs worst ever Nuclear accident in 1957 after a fire broke out, leading to the escape of radioactive fallout.

If the inspiration sounds dry the music isn’t. Whilst obviously melancholy there is always hope and resolution to be found in Richardsons work. The album essentially documents the incident from the initial premise of (free) nuclear energy, through the hubris and error to the catastrophic incident itself, its aftermath and the learnings therein. Track titles give a clear indication but I honestly believe the music speaks most eloquently of all. Had Richardson called his pieces 1 to 13 it is still very clear where we are in this tragic tale from the sheer brilliance of his writing and performance. Take ’20/53′ as a clear example, itself a wonderful piece of music even out of context. However, when you know a little of Windscales history, (2053 was the reactor core channel that continued to heat when operatives were trying to reverse the situation) the ‘lump in throat’ impact is heightened tenfold.

In keeping with Last Days past work the new album takes the listener somewhere ‘else’, somewhere dangerous but it always delivers us back on terra firma. There is optimism throughout (eg ‘Close The Windows’). More contemplative pieces can be found but the clear narrative of catastrophe remains throughout.

I hold Last Days music in the highest regard possible. Yet there is no single, compelling reason for this. His success (together with my admiration) is won through subtlety and thoughtfulness. I found Windscale to be similar in tone to Last Days earlier work but also to something like Clarks Playground in a Lake (which also interprets disaster, except in Clarks case it is climate related). It can be a somewhat challenging listening experience, especially if you know the backstory but it is also cinematic and beautiful if you can push that narrative to one side.

With Windscale Last Days has delivered 13 wonderful, wordless compositions soundtracking a mid 20th Century ‘error of judgement’. Unlucky for some. Lucky for us.

Windscale was later renamed Sellafield as the site fell under the management of the Nuclear decommissioning committee.