Nick Storring is more than just a composer and a musician; he excels at creating a vibe. Last year, he released My Magic Dreams Have Lost Their Spell, an ambient instrumental voyage – not to mention an opaque homage to Roberta Flack – that fused late-night ambient textures with instruments like cello and toy piano. To call it “new age” would run contrary to the album’s innate edge and sense of danger. With his latest album, Newfoundout, Storring has managed to pull off the challenging trick of creating music that evokes that same sense of otherworldliness, but this time with more primitive sounds often culled from everyday life.
Newfoundout – released on Mappa Editions, a small label out of Slovakia – was recorded using acoustic and electromechanical instruments, objects, and treatments, and with very little electronic processing. According to the press release, the emphasis is on wind, percussion, and “found/repurposed instruments”. “Everything from a tunable dog whistle to Storring’s expired driver’s license make appearances.” The result is a collection that certainly tilts towards the experimental, but also it creates a sense of wonder. It’s a glorious celebration of creating art out of objects not meant for that purpose. All seven tracks on the album are named after ghost towns around the Canadian province of Ontario, which only adds to the mystery and sense of strangeness that runs throughout the music.
“Dome” begins the album with the clatter of percussion, which soon leads into the wheezing of something like an accordion. Eventually, doubled woodwinds emit a mysterious melody (oddly reminiscent of the five notes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind). More instruments come in and out, dynamics shift, and the lengthy track – clocking in at more than 12 minutes – ends up sounding like a mini-symphony from another planet. On “Frood”, percussion is more pronounced and exotic, providing a primitive, foot-tapping pulse as other, more subtle forms of instrumentation hover around the beat. It sounds worlds away from “Dome” yet oddly connected.
On “Khartum”, sparse electric keyboard noodling is reminiscent of Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way-era jazz fusion, but the song soon veers into a haunting, sustained minor-key roar. Storring seems dead set on inviting the listener into a calming place, only to shift gears as he sees fit, regardless of whether or not you signed up for that. He’s a master at creating a mood, a specific dynamic, only to pull the rug out. He may return to a specific motif at some point in time, or he may not. Regardless, it’s a thrilling experience not only for the sonic thrills but also for the lack of predictability.
Elsewhere, “Silver Centre” brings on sustained noise and dissonance that reaches a roaring climax, only to retreat and return for a percussion-heavy final act. “Vroomanton” complements its far-flung percussion base with glitchy beats that recall exotic dub or Radiohead circa Kid A. The album concludes with the title track, which seems to take all aspects of this truly striking album and condense it down to a moving, highly ambitious coda. The song’s movements embrace the sweep of film scores, near-silent ambient textures, post-rock gestures, weird bits of prog-inspired grandeur, and even a good old-fashioned jump scare or two.
Nick Storring isn’t satisfied with making the same old albums that everyone else is making. As he proves on Newfoundout, he’s more interested in creating vast musical worlds.