Eau by Mariska Baars & Rutger Zuydervelt

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Mariska Baars & Rutger Zuydervelt | Eau
Self-released (CD/DL)

Rutger Zuydervelt and Mariska Baars latest collaboration – and their first since 2008’s Drawn – is a swirling tapestry of affected vocals, an emergent sea of abstract utterances that is as beguiling as it is restrained. The album revolves around a single theme, perhaps even a single compositional device – processed, disjointed vocals that form a horizon upon which an increasingly melodic – even jazz-inflected – guitar roams, bringing with it new and subtle electronic colours, fizzes, scrapes and distant jangles.

The title – Eau – is lived out by the composition. Baars vocals swirl and compress like the tide itself, slowly ushering forth radical – yet seemingly fluid – changes in the composition as a whole. Later, as the guitar takes hold, her voice is in turn submerged, serving as a swaying bed, a seascape by which to locate the rest of the music.  Simplicity is key – no one sound ever over-extends itself, nothing is granted enough personality to upend the delicate relationship between parts. It is like a marriage, successful for its lack of dominance, even as the distinct voices of which it is comprised vie for their share of the space they mutually inhabit.

The beauty of Eau lies in its utility of a particular aesthetic, without either becoming over-indulgent or so inquisitive as to compromise its integral form. The voice, and its omni-present processing, rarely changes from its singular treatment, ebbing and flowing by ultimately relying upon the same fundamental technique. Likewise, the guitar, though increasing, slightly, in complexity over time, proffers only that same tone, that same method of performance that defines our first encounter. On some levels, one might be critical of some potentially cheesy aspects – their is a certain smoothness to the guitar in particular that is reminiscent of lounge-jazz or another easy-listening, sunday-afternoon vibe – but as a composition its elements are employed with an unusually robustly sense of pace and nuance. It is not the individual sounds that make up the work, but the thorough exploration of the relationship between them, the emergent timbres and moods that are brought to life throughout their time together.

Baars and Zuydervelt describe the album as ‘an atmosphere that fills the space’, and this seems a fairly accurate description. There is little here to grab you, nothing likely to stick in your memory – and the piece is all the better for the lack of any such conceit. Like many of Zuydervelt’s compositions, the result is something that washes over you, immersing you in a subtle and persistent charm that manages to be entirely ambient in spirit whilst seemingly eschewing many of the obvious trappings of the genre.

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