Everyone`s gonna be talking / writing about the contrast between the music on Minor Pieces` The Heavy Steps Of Dreaming and Ian William Craig`s previous releases. But I believe Ian’s earlier solo LPs were a bit of a Trojan horse – preparing listeners for this collaboration with Missy Donaldson.
The songs, the use of the voice primarily as an instrument, are the same throughout Craig`s canon. Where lyrics perhaps are secondary to sound. There`s always been a hymn-like quality to his work – that`s were all the Sigur Ros referencing comes in. His are sad, love songs – harbouring a big redemptive ache. Melancholy but up-lifting. Ian says “hopeful”. Picking over something broken. Remembering its wonder. Trying to salvage what remains. The Heavy Steps Of Dreaming is no different in this respect. It`s sung from the heart in its entirety by both Ian and Missy – as if experiencing, celebrating, epiphany. The opening Rothko is fucking epic.
Minor Pieces have simply removed the filters from Ian’s words. The tape-manipulated camouflage, the gloves, have come off. I think its a brave, strange, and shrewd record. Where Craig`s classically-trained “choir boy” voice, now partnered in sweet harmony with Missy`s and largely “unadorned” by processing, has the potential to draw listeners in from a more mainstream pop world. Piece by piece leading them from somewhere familiar / accessible to Craig`s more usual decayed sonic terrain. Strummed acoustic guitars, plucked upright bass strings, woodwinds, warm electric piano, Missy and Ian’s folk vocal pairings – , sometimes alt. country phrasing – allowing all sorts of pop culture comparisons. Johnathan Wilson, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, a beatless Portishead ghost, Panda Bear`s Beach Boys-isms, Bon Iver, Julia Holter reciting Barbara Lewis` Hello Stranger from memory, and Clannad. I`m even reminded of Robbie Basho. While the record`s production rises and falls in waves – between bold clarity, and the ethereal yet visceral tug expected of Craig. Until the duo eventually pull their songs apart. The effect, a bit like The X-Factor meets Peter Rehberg`s Pita. Nearly all of the tracks have submitted to some kind of disintegration by their close. Most feature distortion which crackles like flame beneath their surface. This threat burning throughout the album before roaring to consume its penultimate piece, Tender Fire. Torching overdriven organ keys as they`re clipped and bleed. I’m sure I’ve used the myth of Icarus to describe Ian’s music before.
The final track, ShipBreaking, is set on a journey to who knows where – against and taken by the tides. The voices stretched theremin-thin and glitched. Torn into light – like Jennifer Jason Leigh`s Dr. Ventress in Alex Garland’s Annihilation. A storm of cathartic noise and then calm. The climax. The eye. Weathered. Together.
You can find out more about Minor Pieces and order a copy of The Heavy Steps Of Dreaming over at the FatCat website.