On his fascinating 2020 album New Topographics, Matt Evans seemed playful and curious. An album rooted in skittering percussion and found sounds, it brimmed with positivity and possibility. For touchless, Evans takes a decidedly different approach, resulting in an album of a completely different mood, but no less astonishing in its concept and execution.
The inspiration behind touchless certainly speaks to its relatively somber nature. In 2019, Devra Freelander – a sculptor and eco-feminist artist and Evans’ partner – lost her life in a Brooklyn biking accident. Evans recorded the songs that would eventually comprise touchless in 2019 and 2020. “Devra was a light,” he writes on his Bandcamp page, “and through her life and art, she worked tirelessly to imagine ways of expressing empathy and love on a geologic scale”. He describes the songs as “six intimately textured tracks that are suspended in a dreamy haze”. Also, he writes that the album “questions the phenomenology of touch, reaching to transcend the boundaries of the physical to embody touch while remaining touchless.”
The biggest difference between touchless and Evans’ previous works is that these songs are rooted in heavily sustained notes and vast beds of immersive sound. It’s an album to get lost in. Evans is the primary performer on the album and uses various cassette players, pianos, a Yamaha Portasound, a Korg Minilogue, a Casio 405, and an iPhone, in addition to a portable digital recording device to capture field recordings. There’s a distinct lo-fi feel to “Arcto 2″, which begins the album with muffled piano chords mixed with atmospheric room sounds. Evans approaches his playing softly and deliberately, and the grief is palpable, even when he moves into more atonal areas near the song’s conclusion.
The appropriately titled “Solar Silhouette” gives off a feeling of spaciness, coming off almost like a sonic representation of outer space. The enveloping atmosphere is nearly deafening but also oddly comforting, like a thoughtfully curated slab of Brownian noise. That track’s sonic sibling, “Fluorescent Sunrise”, appearing later in the album, is somewhat similar yet warmer and more inviting, perhaps representing the hope that the morning sun might bring.
While Evans is the album’s composer and primary performer, a small group of guest musicians offer sympathetic accompaniment. Tristan Kasten-Krause contributes upright bass to the droning title track and the piano-focused “Firn”. Meanwhile, David Lackner’s tenor saxophone on the title track gives the song an additional, unexpected texture. Fellow experimental musician and composer Elori Saxl plays violin on “Firn”. Her appearance on touchless isn’t surprising, given her terrific album The Blue of Distance (released earlier this year) would make a wonderful companion piece to Evans’ record.
As touchless opens with “Arcto 2″, it closes with “Arcto 1″, creating bookends that beautifully tie the album together. On the closing track, Evans continues to maneuver through the piano with thoughtfully constructed chords, and a gentle field recording of water underneath is reminiscent of the sounds he used on New Topographics. There’s a gentle, emotional, almost unbearably moving feel to this song, and experiencing the recording can almost feel like an intrusion into someone else’s grief. Thankfully, Matt Evans has made these recordings available for all of us to experience in our everyday lives, be it in moments of sadness, contemplation, or joy. It may be an album rooted in grief, but it offers up a surprising array of emotions.