I have long wondered what an Erik Honoré solo record would sound like. Thus, "Heliographs” is an album I've been eagerly awaiting. Additionally, as a certified Punktoholic, I have been aware that I was not alone in this regard.
[EDIT: In the newly established tradition of transparency: I am actually a member of the "Punkt family" (I have been a Punkt Festival MC a couple of times, and have worked in the background with some the best people I know). However, if I didn't feel about this album as I did when I wrote it, and continue to do, this article would never have been written.]
The album's personnel includes Eivind Aarset, Sidsel Endresen, and Ingar Zach, all regular Punkt Festival participants, and Jeffrey Bruinsma, violinist, 25% of Zapp4, the Dutch improvising string quartet, and now new Punkt alumnus. Of course, given the smorgasbord of sampling opportunities available to Erik, in a way, the album's cast (technically speaking, if nothing else) is much larger than this. However, such matters are best kept for discussion elsewhere at another time.
I think it is too easy to regard "Heliographs" as a dark album. Or, perhaps as an "obscure" album in some sense. There are layers of detail, varied textures, sounds that evade immediate identification. There is a certain heat-haze to some parts, a patina of memories fading (but not a faux-gloss of nostalgia in any sense) to others. Each composition flows through its own geography, but remains within the same borders as its fellows. It always seems to be what the light picks out rather than the shadows and shade.
I'm not really very keen on singling out individual tracks on albums as a rule (because to do so is invariably at the expense of the context – albums are albums for a reason, sometimes, not merely collections of individual tracks), and I'm not going to do so here. There are no stand-out tracks, because, like Jan Bang's two most recent solo excursions, it is simply a stand-out album, from start to finish. I could just dip into this album selectively, but I would come away unsatisfied. Every time I have begun listening to it, I have to see it through to its end. And, when interrupted, I have had to begin afresh. A good album might do this, but great ones always do.
It is subtly melodic; it seems purposefully adrift in a sea of ideas, some bubbling quickly to the surface, some slowly emerging. There are moments like unexpected rocks or reefs (although few of these), and moments that seem to have parts that grow afresh while others decay.
Rhythms are defined more through pulsation and implication, seeming to sidestep metrical constraints in favour of microevents that happen at just the right moments instead of the prescriptive ones of mathematical computer-based scoring (a trick that Bang is also fond of, it seems to me). Although electronics are an integral part of the working methods that created this album, you are never forcefully reminded of this, as the usual constraints of strict adherence to tempered tuning and metronomic beats are merely additional colours rather than dogma.
"Pioneer Trail" is the only composition that offers a beat in the conventional sense understood when speaking of electronic music, and even then, it is somewhat muted, revelling in the implications of its masterful weaving through the background.
The evocative titles of each, in the context of the master title of "Heliographs" suggest individual photographs, often with a degree of implied Americana. For example, "Last Chance Gas And Water" could be a snapshot of a dusty, rickety gas station on the edge of the desert, hoodoos and barren expanses in the background, despite lacking Ry Cooder's slide guitar or stumble-plucked banjo. "Evocative" is certainly a word that can be used of all the pieces, although for every listener, what is evoked will certainly be different and personal.
To listen to "Heliographs", I would recommend setting time aside (well, to be honest, I recommend this for any album, particularly on first listen), and allowing that time to fill with the music and all that it brings to the surface of your consciousness. It is not an album to be rushed, nor "scanned", nor sampled "track by track": it is a whole experience. That experience is a rewarding one, and worth repeating. Again. And Again. And AGAIN.