[sic] Magazine

Last Days – Satellite

Satellite is Graham Richardson ‘s fourth long-playing outing under his Last Days guise. The man not only deals in moving, nuanced ambience, he excels at it. Preferring to label his music as “cinematic lo-fi” rather than electronica or IDM (no dancing here) it becomes quickly clear that we’re dealing with something of an outsider in Richardson. This is no arrogant claim, nor an attempt to appear wilfully obtuse or contrary. It is simply his honest self assessment, much, in fact, like the music itself.

Last Days’ USP has always been his mastery of subtlety. Aspects of Satellite are an exception to this but we will come onto that. Indeed, where his previous album (the essential Safety Of The North ) felt accessible almost to the point of being welcoming, this latest collection is very different, arguably turning back towards the experimentation of his earliest work. By now it is very clear that Richardson is more composer than songwriter. Like his previous works, Satellite is instrumental for the most part but it isn’t the absence of words that makes Last Days feel like modern day classical. The symphonic structure and repeat motifs take care of that. Opener ‘Theme’ (so-called because it will pop up again) owes as much to the likes of Satie , Glass and Nyman as it does to any SOTL , Eluvium , etc

The mix on Satellite fascinates me. The way each piece is arranged often sounds like an unlikely marriage of different ideas. ‘Expecting Miracles’, to give an example, is a bizarre blend of mournful Piano, early OMD synthesiser, percussion and waves, the latter two crashing with equal force. Nothing seems to belong to the same song. Yet it works. I’ll go further and say that some of these recordings sound like the process of composing itself. As though we are witnessing Richardson playing piano, searching for a melody, finding a melody and finally incorporating the other instruments. When it all finally comes together it ….fades away.

Speaking of waves, there are a lot of field recordings on Satellite , the type of thing I was beginning to find a bit tedious in the world of IDM, – running water, birdsong, you know the kind of thing. Last Days has always incorporated these but this time his usage and placement is not at all subtle. On Satellite the nature sounds are pushed to the forefront of the soundscape. E.g., ‘Glow’, (not only a highlight here but possibly one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have heard in the last ten years), takes place from behind the crackle of a coal fire. Normally this kind of positioning would be suicidal. Yet it works. Whether in spite of or because of these bold, blunt field recordings I cannot say but Satellite succeeds.

Last Days may incorporate a lot of ‘cloud’ in his music but his melodies are the silver lining. Much like past works Richardson explores somewhat melancholy themes (this time isolation and reclusiveness) and counter-balances with optimism. The real narrative theme of Satellite is. ‘Don’t hide from the world. We are all satellites, all alone, but if we look around us there is beauty’. When actual words finally arrive (‘New Transmissions’) the singing almost jars, threatening to break the spell. Then, as we listen to the songs evident message, we’re flooded with light and support. It is a real ‘Message In A Bottle’ moment – the discovery that we are not alone in being alone. As someone who lost somebody very close to me last year ‘New Transmissions’ brought a genuine lump to my throat whilst lending a virtual arm around the shoulder.

Richardson is unique. He does everything so skillfully that surely Last Days should be doing soundtrack works? MUST do soundtracks. His grasp of narrative, his feel for the emotive whilst never laying it on thick….

Imagine something like Duncan JonesMoon
“searching for long range comms”
New Transmissions?

Mercury Prize panel? You should’ve gone to Specsavers.
They do hearing aids too, right?

~Album released September 16th on n5MD~

[sic] review – The Safety Of The North

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