Review: Silvia Kastel – Air Lows
Discussing ‘The Gap’, a recent precursor to ‘Air Lows’, Silvia Kastel described a fascination with emotional and physical voids and all the different (or same) ways that people attempt to fill them. ‘The Gap’ was made after Kastel had recently moved to Berlin, a time apparently dictated by a predominantly lone and nocturnal existence: ‘I was living a lot at night at the time, taking long walks on headphones at night. The city lights, the canal, the things I experienced during those walks informed the music on it.’ *
If this consideration and negotiation of existential voids, of reclusive nightwalks and of a new life in Berlin influenced ‘The Gap’, then these prior determinants also leave a significant mark on her first full length solo LP. Voids remain, as does the sense of self-enclosure, nocturnality and voyage. But here there’s a movement towards a finer clarity where the prang of DIY dub and prickle of machine noise has become tapered by an icy purity that feels marked less by oppressive voids than by post-rave enervation.
Whilst there is a dimension to ‘Air Lows’ that suggests Kastel’s long walks have taken her in and out of Berlin’s nightlife this isn’t a record shaped by the experience of piling into Berghain to see Dettmann. Instead Kastel subverts the language of a deep club music to explore a different, more ambivalent space, one of sapped adrenaline, spun out aftermath and soporific, narcotized suspension.
In this respect ‘Air Mob’, one of the records more discernible highlights, is a flawless wasteland of arctic ambience and crisp, half-knackered drum machines. An austere invocation of a cold comedown. Meanwhile ‘Target’, the records introduction, practically invites the listener into a state of washed out awe, entreating them to ‘lay back’ amongst lush oscillation and hollow traces of sub-bass. Much of the records first half is left to drift in these mesmeric vagaries. All ghosts and undertones.
Yet for all the glazed dislocation there’s a purposeful emergence of atmosphere on these tracks that ensures intrigue and staying power. On ‘Bruell’ and ‘Air Glow’ heady effusions trade space with an encoded, gurgling disarray of digital signals, introducing a form of defected computer music to spiralling, vaporous soundscapes that evoke detachment and wilderness. In this ‘Air Lows’ conveys a vivid sense of vacancy that’s bare, and heavy-lidded but profuse and immaculate too, and even, in the case of these two tracks, prone to slippage and disruption. At times such blends recall the lush dub reductionism of latter day HTRK if paired with the enterprising concrète science of Beatriz Ferrerya.
As the record progresses into its second half the sense of a residual euphoria becomes modified. ‘Heart 2 Tape’ shows both a heightened vulnerability and a stronger pulse, with diaphanous vocals meeting an unerring throb of bass and a fluid sequence of FX that seem to morph, ripple and spool into a distant hidden reverse. Lean, dolorous, more granular and less pristine than before, it’s more of a companion piece to ‘Taped to Heart’ (from ‘The Gap’) than an essential part of ‘Air Lows’, yet still bridges Kastel’s prior form for bleak, hallucinatory, noise-scorched dub with this current inclination for purer, psychoactive polish.
On ‘Spiderwebs’ such lustre remains yet after immersive, frozen diversion the tone has become one of utter disquiet. Echoes stir and retreat as low toned static seeps into skeletal thuds and half-submerged spoken word. Towards its conclusion Kastel prefigures the title of the next track with the words ‘It’s the poetry of nothing/the concrete void’, a statement that seems to definitively encapsulate her fascination with material and metaphysical emptiness.
After this chilling nadir there’s a recuperation of more exploratory, less desolate tendencies. Although a slithering synthesis and Kastel’s isolated voice is caught reeling backward on ‘Concrete Void’ compounding the unease and resembling Nurse With Wound gone hyperreal, a scuffle of radiance glistens endlessly above these elements and in the track’s final moments, a frantic swarm of FX simmers in some virtual chamber. Here there’s just as much light, cerebral play as there is dark, enveloping grit and so, as with ‘The Closer The Stranger’ the records concluding track, there’s a mutable balance between abyssal delirium and a sort of floored, transporting liberation. Both exploration and dread.
This quality for fluency and poise holds the key to the accumulative appeal of ‘Air Lows’. Repeated listens reveal more and more details whilst the records absorbing ambiguity barely diminishes. The basis for such an achievement seems to lie in Kastel’s patient consistency. Instead of relinquishing what she’s produced to this point and adhering to the increasingly hackneyed decision to make a vaguely experimental, but usually drearily formulaic club record after moving to Berlin, Kastel has reinterpreted the influence of certain club musics through her own individual, compulsive lens. In doing so she’s captured multitudes; a potent sense of post-club disassociation, an alien 21st century library music, an unyielding document of the voids within and without.
Whilst the records two halves hold some contrast – the first comprised of steep, disorderly highs, the second of graver, sterner lows – these tracks all veer and shift, never quite belonging solely to either distinction. Instead they lie at a threshold, between the public and the private, the external and the internal, the club speakers and the personal headphones. Although ‘Air Lows’ proves Kastel is still preoccupied with the void, it confirms she’s finding freedom there.