Hywel Davies' latest album comes almost 15 years after his last. He has, since then, collaborated with many other musicians, but this release is his second collection of personally recorded compositions. With this new work, he has managed to create something which forces the listener's attention, and almost asks you to work as hard as he has done to compose such music.
A fascination with the gaps between notes (the musical equivalent of cosmic microwave background radiation) leaves this album with a very well rounded out theme, which isn't built around what can fit inside of a piece, but what can be removed. We are rarely gifted with more than one instrument playing at a time here, and on the rare occasions we are, such as on the opening track 'Descent', the theme is subverted throughout its duration. The song, 'End Canon', starts off with what seems to be a simple violin progression looping around in on itself, yet before long a slightly disjointed version of the theme joins in, until we are left closing out the piece with a irregular, unfinished, looped sound. 'Albumleaf' takes the simplicity of a small number of two-note piano chords, and throughout manages to make effective the small, nuanced changes, such as when the chords turn imperfect, which is something that would be lost beneath anything else playing 'between the gaps'. 'Apostrophe' performs the same feat with a singular flute, which helps to create a wonderful middle section where the flute seems to be playing along to a tune that only it can hear.
The collection seems to highlight its thoughts when we hit the end track, 'Apus Apus Part 2', a song which I think could be best described as the 'filler' music struck from every track, and combined together, strung on the end. The sounds of breathing too enhance this effect, bringing to mind the idea of a music engineer working his way through scores of music, cutting out any part when he hears the artist breathe, rejecting it as it isn't part of the music. With this album, Hywel Davies challenges you to attack the 'white noise' beneath the tracks, to make your home in them, and for the most part, this is a brilliant idea executed very well. 'Sonatas In F' comes with a flurry of staccato notes, so whilst this track is probably the busiest of all on offer here, and arguably the most tuneful, it still creates the same atmosphere apparent elsewhere. 'Duo 6', with its cascading strings, forges tension out of something incredibly simple, and creates something truly delightful for the listener. However, this isn't the case for everything on offer here.
'Cold In The Earth', the third track, is a piece that trips up on consecutive listens, an oscillating dynamic range without any clear purpose or drive. Although the idea is to subvert listeners, it seems, this track cannot be excused for its lack of ambition. The album also has a very eclectic middle section, in the form of four piano pieces which seem solely to be showpieces for the album's mood, unlike the majority of songs prior and after, which seem to have more warmth to them. Apart from these small blips, the album holds strong otherwise, and doesn't overextend itself, and benefits from this greatly.
It always seems to come down to whether this is an album worth recommending, and I would certainly say that it is, purely on the grounds that Hywel Davies is a fantastic British composer who certainly seems to have kept his work exciting throughout his career, and here he manages to perfect his craft. Whilst the ambitions of a few tracks are lacking, the majority here create a world which ask you to answer a lot of questions. Whatever that answer is, I'm sure you're probably right.