Siavash Amini and Matt Finney | Second Shift
Opal Tapes (CD/DL)
Three albums into their collaborative series, Siavash Amini and Matt Finney have developed a reputation for concocting thematically and aesthetically dark worlds that meld awkward characters with oft punishing soundscapes. Although Second Shift’s spoken narrative certainly points to this being a fair assessment of their work together, it is with Amini’s expansive, surprisingly subtle composition that we find something arguably greater – a dynamic that extends beyond any such arbitrary machinations. Whilst the album may rely upon, and even openly flaunt, a certain unabashed gloom – doused as it is in an aesthetic and sonic decay – its charm lies not only in its expressive currency but in its artistic validity, a work that demonstrates an ability to rise above its otherwise oppressive frame.
There is a sense that the macro-structure of the album directly informs the musical content with unusual force. Particularly notable, is the manner in which Finney’s text – difficult, occasionally explicit memories delivered with a strong American accent – is relegated to short extracts framing much longer sonic explorations. The text is by necessity evocative, loaded with powerful imagery of such dramaturgy that it risks overplaying its hand. However, by allowing the text to paint the scene and then quickly dissipate into it, the voice serves less as an overbearing narration, and more as a thematic resonance, an echo reverberating through the chambers of Amini’s composition.
Second Shift is orientated by a sense of urgency that permeates even its starkest moments. Whilst the blistering waves of grainy noise that mark its opening moments are as distressing as one might expect, it is with its more ambient, neo-classical tongue that the work best invokes the sort of emotional depth its subject matter demands. The utility of reverb-drenched strings is fast becoming an ambient-cliche, yet Amini succeeds in working their melodic and harmonic content into the very fabric of his composition – rather than pleasant addendums to his noisier forays, these sections instead offer a wonderfully rich and musically-logical counterpoint, a beauty replete with a level of sonic precision that is fast-becoming the composers signature. ‘Chloe + Unfinished Houses’ – to my ears the albums standout track – blends rumbling, corrosive rain with a droning violin, whose character, rather than its content, seems to evolve over ten or so minutes, as if it were being dragged from room to misshapen room.
The experience manages to be both overwhelming and intangible at once. The melodic sparsity of much of the music – a tableau that offers neither formless drone, nor recognisable movement – affords a deeply immersive listen, in which the relative timbral and dynamic changes are the metre by which any sense of the passage of time is demarcated. I often found myself struggling to follow the music and instead drifting between critical and passive states, latching on to a specific aspect of its sound world and being drawn into its textural depth, at the expense of any perception of the overall structure. It is a mode of listening usually associated with more ‘pure’ drone compositions, and it is Amini’s unfathomably fine ear that allows him to draw such near-clinical detail from such dense, and thematically-pronounced, musical content.
If anything, it is the busier, rumbling barrages of noise that struggle to match the quality of their more ambient counterparts – though impressive for their magnitude, these granular onslaughts at times lack the multi-layered, fractured grace of their neighbours. For all its compositional acuity, there are a few moments with which I was less taken – the beginning of ‘Youth’ for instance, introduces a fairly run-of-the-mill distorted noise, a section that somehow lacks the craftsmanship that so obviously underpins the album as a whole. Again, structure is vital here – the album gets noisier as it progresses, and though I found myself vastly preferring the first half to the second for this reason, the fundamental effect is that we, the listener, are trapped in an ongoing state of decay, a cognisant recoil that matches the brooding mood of its text.
Amini and Finney have developed an impressive partnership, and Second Shift is an impressive album. At time, perhaps, it risks being appended by its own singular focus (thematically at least) upon such a nightmarish horizon, and if you’re not already a fan of its more abrasive contours it’s unlikely to win you over, though I doubt it intends to. That said, it is with Amini’s far more nuanced, meticulous compositional language that we witness something far more unique – a rare capacity to prioritise composition over genre, a mastery of sonic materials that suggests its author could engage a far broader palette with no less success.