A public meditation

Charlie Cawood is going places. I mean, I certainly hope he is going places in his career, but that’s not what I mean. I mean I’m going places. When I listen to Cawood’s music on Blurring Into Motion, I go places. It’s an album of place and journey, of concrete atmospheres rooted in the sensory. It is no coincidence that the mandala-esque image Mark Buckingham drew for the cover of his first album has been supplanted (by the same artist) with a spiral design formed of natural found objects. Set this record spinning, gaze into that image, and you are likely to find yourself caught up in its eponymous qualia.

These swirling, transitive vibes are evoked through carefully and intricately constructed arrangements, predominantly of strings and woodwinds floating over guitar, bass, tuned percussion, harp, celeste… Unlike his debut, The Divine Abstract, Cawood’s orchestral palette here is a straight fusion of Western popular and art-music resources, and his stylistic touchstones seem consistent with that. To me, the music on this record sounds like a kind of mid-point between English chamber music of the late Romantic era, and the less raucous sort of 1960s psychedelic folk-pop, although it is far more sinewy than the former and far more nuanced than most of the latter. Most of the record cleaves to a similar density and dynamic level, and the individual compositions, which are of roughly pop-song length, have a trance-like, continuous feel. Whether they can be parsed for traditional song structure I don’t even know, because I just haven’t found myself listening in that kind of a way. More or less as soon as I hear the opening of strains of ‘Dance Of Time’ I’m floating away on Cawood’s consistent and supportive affective cushion, releasing my tension and drifting gently through novel inner territories.

Lyrically there may be something going on in the two songs that have vocals, but again, despite extensive and repeated listening, I couldn’t tell you any of the words Marjana Semkina’s smooth, warm voice conveys without going back to check. Her singing is beautiful, but it is very much a part of the arrangements, and the affective power of the music seems so much more important than any kind of literal meaning. I understand that Cawood was having a pretty rough time while he was making this music, but there is nothing anguished or hard-won about its impact: the titles of the compositions suggest cosmicist themes of a personal relationship to the universe, and there is some hint of darkness in these. But ‘Abyss of Memory’, ‘The Dark Within’, ‘A Severed Circle’ and ‘The False Mirror’ are at most melancholy in the affective surfaces they present—there is nothing here that sounds despairing, truly dark, abject or abandoned.

Perhaps if this record has a fault, it is that. It sticks to an emotional middle-ground so nourishing and so accommodating that it can sometimes slip by without leaving the listener much grit or gristle to remember it by. But it would be a mistake to judge it against the established purposes of either pop- or chamber-music. Blurring Into Motion doesn’t strike me as either entertainment or as discourse: it feels more like a public meditation. With its rich, intricate textures, its beautiful playing, and its layered, cumulative melodic phrasing, it is a highly achieved recording, but I found its affective narrative best appreciated by switching off my forebrain, and forgetting about the mechanics of its production. For the few months I’ve spent listening to it repeatedly, it’s been my safest, happiest place to be.

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