Cwtch is a long-distance collaboration which concluded last year, between Paul Foster, a Welsh electronic music producer, and Marie Craven, an Australian singer and lyricist. Pixiegraf is the album which started it all, back in 2008. Originally conceived as a release under the rubric of Dementio 13 (Foster’s main project), featuring vocals by Craven (usually known professionally as Pixieguts), it was re-titled when they decided to extend their collaboration, and presumably because, in itself, it sounds as much like Craven’s work as Foster’s.
I’ve listened to a lot of Dementio 13 releases, which include some of the most human sounding and organically textured electronic music I’ve heard. Foster avoids overt experimentalism, using accessible melodies, consonant harmonies and regular beats as the basis for his work (which is usually wordless). It’s in the timbres, textures and arrangements of his music that he exerts his detailed creativity, producing work that takes in a wide range of styles, electronic and otherwise, while rarely sounding at all eclectic. It presents such a varied surface to the listener, and such a carefully modulated narrative, that the absence of a vocal element is rarely even noticeable.
It takes a rare vocalist, then, to contribute to such tunes in a way that doesn’t feel superfluous. As a result of discovering her through Cwtch, I’ve listened to a lot of Craven’s collaborations with other producers, and although she always brings something similar to the table, in terms of her delivery, and her lyrical interests, she also pays specific attention to the requirements of a given musical context. I don’t know how this record was made, but I imagine Foster sent some tracks and Craven sang on them—however, that’s not how it sounds. It sounds like a collection of carefully crafted songs, all of whose elements relate organically to each other. Craven’s singing is smooth, soulful and sometimes ethereal, with beautifully controlled dynamics, and her lyrics are delightfully oblique.
I’m not surprised the two of them decided to revisit this collaboration. Spending a few months with this record has been an immersive and nourishing experience. Many of the textures achieve a delicate kind of ‘dappled shade’ effect, a broken luminosity that makes the music, for all that it has narrative structure, beats and chord sequences, feel curiously static and spatial. Pixiegraf is, in places, quite a kinetic album, but the abiding impression that it leaves me with is of an ambience. When the lyrics are so ambiguous, they don’t pin the listener down into a concrete sense of what each song is ‘about’, and so the music remains a field of possibilities, forever opening onto new vistas.