Daniel W J Mackenzie & Richard A Ingram | Half Death
Midira Records (CD/DL)
Half Death is at its most impressive when it’s at its quietest. The album feels to be an exploration of the quieter side of melodic composition, with pianos and synths and fizzing arpeggios accompanying the sort of reverberant scapes that seems ubiquitous with this sort of thing. Though the project appears to be admirably lacking any form of online presence, the press release assures me that its membership contains the very same Richard A Ingram from the band Oceansize, which feels a fair assumption given the spacey, post-post-rock environment Half Death inhabits.
From a technical standpoint, the whole affair is wonderful from start to finish. Every sound, every subtle auditory incursion, is rendered with remarkable nuance, with the tonal and timbral differentiation between its elements forging a rich and immersive soundscape. Although the music itself is often somewhere south of interesting (in any traditional sense), it is the restraint embodied by the album as a whole that takes precedent. Half Death feels very much like the sort of incidental music that appends and, as is often the case, improves the composition proper of mainstream Hollywood sci-fi films, with aimless crescendos giving way to stark silences, a canvas of unfulfilled tension. It’s penchant for subtlety is such that, at times, it was unclear if the sounds I was hearing were coming from my headphones or the world around me, such is Mackenzie and Ingram’s habit of placing their sounds at the edge of perception.
If anything, the more explicitly musical sounds feel least valuable to the composition as a whole, and it is when the album veers towards its more ‘quiet bit from a post-rock record’ moments that things suffer most. Given the strength of the opening two tracks, the third and fourth – Victoria I (ruin) and Creeping – feel far weaker, embracing the sense of nothingness that the rest of the work courts but somehow failing to produce anything satisfying from it. In contrast, Jitter is arguably the standout track. A thin, nasal drone that evolves over some 7 minutes, teasing from its structure a near endless variation, for which the sunken, distant piano feels a perfect accompaniment.
There is something similar to The Caretaker about Half Death, both in terms of its instrumentation and processing, as well as that general aura of memoratic melancholy inherent to Leyland Kirby’s work. At times the balance between something and nothing seems a little off-putting, and there are numerous moments where, for my tastes, the already reduced arrangements could have been paired back even further. That said, when Half Death gets it right, it does so with aplomb, producing an emotive and articulate vision that perfectly blends the timbral qualities of the instruments it employs.