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Walt McClements - A Hole in the Fence Music Album Reviews

Walt McClements - A Hole in the Fence Music Album Reviews
Taken individually, the pieces on this album from the Los Angeles-based accordion player can be moving, but their similar construction yields transcendence and tedium in equal measure.

Nothing else Walt McClements has recorded sounds remotely like A Hole in the Fence. The Los Angeles based-accordion player previously spent his career floating around indie circles, playing in groups like Hurray for the Riff Raff and Weyes Blood and heading his own project Lonesome Leash. His pop songwriting is vanilla and earnest, and the focus on accordion as a focal point provides a passing resemblance to Beirut’s early records, but with traces of post-punk skitter and fewer literary ambitions. By contrast, A Hole in the Fence, his first record under his given name, is all shadow and abstraction, full of heaving drones and flickering specks of reedy treble that steadily fluctuate and churn. While the album’s five pieces for electronically processed accordion sound like tentative steps into the unknown by a composer just figuring out his strengths, McClements often channels feelings of genuine wonder into his layers of swirling, overtone-rich chords.

On A Hole in the Fence, McClements imbues stylistic templates established by ambient minimalists like Stars of the Lid, Tim Hecker, and Kali Malone with a distinctive emotional urgency. His accordion, when unadorned by reverb and delay, sighs openly, expressing a tender melancholy with each of its expansions and contractions. McClements has stated that the music is informed by complicated memories of the “somewhat hidden worlds I’ve travelled through my life, from underground music and punk communities to train hopping and gay cruising grounds,” risky spaces where those excluded from mainstream society are relegated to seek connection and release. Ruminative melodic fragments feel like maps through these secret locations, and beds of drone swaddle the listener in an atmosphere both beautiful and mysterious. As each piece inevitably crests, there’s a sense that he is insistently trying to communicate exactly how it feels to live on the edge.

McClements’ process of molding simple musical figures into dramatic arcs makes travelogues out of his compositions. On “Naked (a showing of scars)” a circular four-note theme is tentatively introduced, the breathy accordion appears closely-mic’d without processing, only to then be slowly augmented with tight harmonies before expanding into monolithic slabs of reverb-laden resonance. The piece unfolds entirely in relation to that theme’s chant-like rise and fall, growing in intensity like a lantern that gradually illuminates more and more of a spectacular underground chamber. By juxtaposing the intimate sounds of the accordion’s mechanics—the wheeze of its bellows and the light tap of fingers hitting keys—with heavily processed surges of bass or dense chords smeared with delay, McClements provides depth to each of the environments he leads us through.

As the album wears on, the predictability of these incremental reveals lessens their visceral impact. Though there are variations in pace and theme, each piece shares the structure of a bell curve: A tranquil, anticipatory exposition grows into a rapturous climax of pulsating tones ringing out into the void only to finally collapse in on itself, leaving the listener with flickering reflections of what they just experienced. There are no truly unexpected twists; the closest we get to a sharp left turn is when the bottom drops out of the brooding, drone-laden “Reckon (holding burning beams),” and even that song makes a parabolic return to its airy opening motif. Taken individually, the pieces on A Hole in the Fence can be deeply moving, even transcendent, but the voyage becomes tedious when each path is indistinguishable from the last.

McClements’ mastery of the accordion comes through in the expansive nature of how he wields it, by turns soft and vulnerable or dense and cerebral. And while the contours of each composition resemble one another, the feelings evoked can range from the wide-eyed awe contained in the ambiguously triumphant swells of “Thresholds (through a hole in the fence)” to the wistful nostalgia heard in the pensive rising chords of “Rinse (repeat repeat).” Slowly, purposefully, he lets us revel in the magnitude of these moments before they finally dissipate.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Walt McClements - A Hole in the Fence Music Album Reviews Walt McClements - A Hole in the Fence Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Wednesday, August 25, 2021 Rating: 5

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