Carmen Villain - Sketch for Winter IX: Perlita Music Album Reviews

Carmen Villain - Sketch for Winter IX: Perlita Music Album Reviews
Six tracks on an atmospheric new mini-album for Atlanta label Geographic North feel like dispatches from deep within a fogbank.

Perhaps Carmen Villain was always an ambient musician disguised as a singer-songwriter. There were clues: On her debut album, 2013’s Sleeper, the Mexican and Norwegian artist wrapped skeletal songs for guitar, drums, and voice in billowing layers of echo, like early Cat Power gone shoegaze. She leaned into her mood-setting instincts on 2017’s Infinite Avenue, drawing out resonant tendrils of guitar like wisps of candle smoke. Then, on her third album, 2019’s Both Lines Will Be Blue, she abandoned vocals in favor of purely instrumental excursions—dialing up the reverb, digging into dub rhythms, using church bells and thunderclaps to add overcast drama. Villain’s new mini-album for Atlanta label Geographic North’s Sketch for Winter series—collecting ambient recordings from artists like Pan•American, Seefeel’s Mark Van Hoen, and the cellist Louise Bock—is even more atmospheric. Its six instrumental tracks feel like dispatches from deep within a fogbank.
Villain is a good fit for a series tied to the emotional overtones of winter. Her brand of melancholy has always sounded made for lighthouses and log cabins, and Sketch for Winter IX: Perlita evokes a similar sense of solitude. It begins with near-whiteout conditions: “Everything Without Shadow” opens the album with four minutes of mostly featureless fuzz, with just the slightest hint of a tentative flute melody pushing through the murk. Over the tape’s 27 minutes, Villain luxuriates in bittersweet vibes, layering gentle, slow-moving refrains over hazy soundscapes that resist close listening but reward time spent in the echo chamber of one’s own feelings.

The tension between opacity and clarity gives the record its shape. Tracks typically assume form first as gaseous swirls of tone. Field recordings—birdsong, barking dogs, a burbling creek—imbue the music with a sense of place, while indecipherable scraps of conversation lend an intimate air. Out of this dreamlike expanse, melodies gradually take shape. In “Two Halves Touching,” a lilting flute figure mimics the swaying melodica of roots reggae. Flute, played by Villain’s frequent collaborator Johanna Scheie Orellana, takes an even more dominant role in the closing “Agua Azul,” the most song-like of the tape’s six tracks. In “Molina,” sustained piano chords cycle beneath a cosmic shimmer of guitar; in “Light in Phases,” a treated zither traces auroras above murmuring voices and tight spools of delay.

Low key and unassuming, these tracks don’t do much; they get by mainly on their powers of suggestion. But they’re easy to listen to, offering the familiar comfort of a faded woolen blanket. And, at their best, they make room for interesting things to happen, particularly when Villain turns her attention to rhythm. This was the case with “Dissolving Edges,” her contribution to the 2020 Geographic North compilation A Little Night Music: Its dubby pulse and grayscale sonics sounded like an attempt to reimagine the sounds of Berlin’s Chain Reaction label using Villain’s earthy toolkit. Here, she does something similar some two-thirds of the way through “Things That Are Solid,” as the song’s lullaby-like melody spins down and gives way to overlapping loops of breathy white noise and scraping sounds. Reminiscent of Bellows’ loop-based improvisations, it’s a quietly spellbinding passage, and the more it frays, the more engrossing it becomes.

Named after Villain’s grandmother, Sketch for Winter IX: Perlita feels in many ways like a companion piece to last year’s Affection in a Time of Crisis, Villain’s contribution to the Longform Editions series. Stretching held chords and cavernous static into a 20-minute reverie, that recording represents her most focused exploration of “pure” ambient music to date. Like the new album, it also foregrounds an airy flute melody that occasionally overpowers its surroundings. Villain’s work is more compelling when it’s not telling you how to feel, but rather inviting you to explore your own mode of listening, deep down where accidental sounds tangle up in the mix. By finding unusual patterns in creaking floorboards and cawing crows, taking inspiration from the organic shapes of snowdrifts and icicles, Villain offers a fine companion for a winter weekend holed up far from everything, alone with your thoughts and whistling wind.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Carmen Villain - Sketch for Winter IX: Perlita Music Album Reviews Carmen Villain - Sketch for Winter IX: Perlita Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, February 02, 2021 Rating: 5

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