Review: Donnacha Costello – Stay Perfectly Still
There’s something great about the bravery of self-released ventures, not only for the more prosaic practicalities afforded the artist but for the impression of creative autonomy projected by any untethered agency. Even more satisfying is a wilful independence combined with a prolific purple patch, something Donnacha Costello seems to be in the current grip of.
After ostensibly quitting music in 2010 and selling his studio, Costello made a surprise return this year with ‘Love From Dust’, a disarmingly stunning series of recordings taken from sparingly edited live performances on the Buchla Music Easel, an instrument which has also found high-yielding favour with its famed early proponent Charles Cohen, and more recently Alessandro Cortini, of Nine Inch Nails. Based on both their recent material as well as Costello’s, it’s a significantly enabling bit of kit once committed to. But where Cohen adopts it as a means for journeying into unreal, parallel dimensions, and Cortini as a way to conjure oppressively unnerving fogs, Costello reaches for a far more plainer impact, rooted in something sublimely romantic. As with his initial comeback record, ‘Stay Perfectly Still’ – an expeditious follow-up – is a wholehearted, sweeping proposition, from the ponderous first steps of ‘Devotion’ through the lump-in-the-throat cinematic melancholy of ‘Moment After Moment’ to the panoramic drone-coated immensity of ‘Just Sit’ and ‘Rise’. But unlike 2010’s merited effort, here Costello seems more assured of the profound grandeur which has pervaded his recent work.
Yet for all the upfront ache, there’s a gratifying, discreet, sophisticated sense of development present which makes Costello’s poignant candour much more palatable than straight edged sentimentality. Built on incrementally blooming, elongated loops, the seven pieces which feature are very much rooted in systems of repetition but aren’t inhibited by a strict adherence to structure. The same opening phase recurs often yet still changes over time, unfurling into progressively greater expanses almost imperceptibly, such is the fluency of their frequent flourish and recession. Only when the crepuscular impasse of ‘This Way’ and ‘That Way’ is reached does the ascendant intensity of the first four tracks – as single entities and together as one passage – feel impeded upon, but it’s a two part abatement which nevertheless maintains the sense of being carried away through fine-tuned, sotto voce reverie. Conversely ‘Enso’, the lingering close to the record, doesn’t really begin anywhere, preferring to dive into a lead synth line which seems to have already been underway for quite some time. Appropriately it continues for the duration of the conclusion, with the enveloping, warmly weighty ambience which accompanies it proceeding to mushroom, evaporate, then reform once again before gracefully dissipating. It’s a final slow-motion, deep-space freefall which commits this to the same league of full-throated, benign but boundary-flouting electronics which the likes of Steve Hauschildt and Jefre-Cantu Ledesma deal in.
Although (as with most premises in the sphere of ambient and drone) it’s best to let the unhurried totality of the record to unravel, this is still a comparatively direct and quickly accessible listen, full of emotive upsurge and sedate undercurrents, yet still structurally engaging in its escalation. ‘Stay Perfectly Still’ may occasionally veer into earnest moments, but it’s trespasses are forgivable due to the balance struck between affect and form. In a marginal scene where obfuscation is the preferred, all too familiar norm, undisguised sensitivity of this order – combined as it is with such intuitively discerning arrangements – can only be applauded.