The newly vowel-less Jeff Stonehouse, formerly known for his work in Listening Mirror, releases Broken with the promise of taking fans of his previous work to “darker places.”
The final Listening Mirror album – 2012’s Resting In Aspic – was a compilation of music taken from various miniature CD-Rs and download only releases. It served as an introduction of sorts, featuring songs from as far back as 2010’s …After the Briefest of Pauses… and gliding deftly through the years with collaborators such as pianist Kate Tustain providing shafts of glittering light in amongst Stonehouse’s sheets of drone and field recordings. Resting In Aspic was not ordered chronologically so it can’t be said that Listening Mirror was on a downward spiral into despair, but it did allow brief glimpses into the gloomier recesses of Stonehouse’s mind. Beneath tracks like The Leechpool – a darkly evocative title if ever there was one – burbled stagnant water that oozed annelidic life, the twitter of birds distant and otherwise occupied. Tustain’s piano played out a sad series of echoing chinks that mimicked the gleam of sunlight penetrating the trees above, dappling on what it was easy to imagine as a paling corpse lying in the moss and quite possibly falling foul to its bloodthirsty inhabitants. It’s my imagination running wild, of course, but the very fact tracks like The Leechpool can conjure those kinds of thoughts in anyone suggests Listening Mirror wasn’t exactly a project filled with unabashed joy. Even songs like the relatively airy The Organist took a large stride back and kept any semblance of humanity at an almost unearthly distance – the feeling one got as the chatter of children punctuated the angelic vocal drones was one of great detachment, or one of unmitigated loss.
Broken is released by the burgeoning Cooper Cult imprint on limited edition 3” CD-R, a format Stonehouse has come to know well through his past work with Hibernate and Rural Colours. His promise is upheld: right from the off it’s clear jffstnhs (or stnhs, if you will) is going to present an altogether heavier sound and one with increased immediacy. No longer is there any feeling of otherness or seperation – the waves of noise envelope you straight away and don’t really let up until the single track’s twenty-two minute running time has elapsed. It’s not vicious or abrasive, it’s just consuming – a mass of muffled voices swirling in a hurricane and slowly dying out as the winds take hold. As it progresses it gets harder to bear; when turned up loud the higher-pitched tones scream through the drones like comets entering the atmosphere. It’s a real thrill ride with a submerged grumble of a beat emerging to propel, challenging the listener to stick to his or her guns or shout that you want to get off. The cover image of what appears to be a fighter pilot preparing for take-off is wholly appropriate, as Broken seems to be made up of everything flying a jet would expose you to, from the roasting hum of the engines to the deafening growl of take-off and headlong into the sonic boom as you break through the sound barrier. It’s powerful stuff, compounded with stunning effect towards the end when a sudden thunk and its rumbling aftermath replicates an airborne pressure drop in your ears.
Broken is a world apart from Listening Mirror’s comparatively gentile sound, in which Stonehouse and Tustain presented slowly evolving landscapes you only ever felt you could observe, as though trapped on the other side of a dream. With jffstnhs he gives you no option but to become involved, picking you up in his whirlwind and leaving you in an exhausted, ecstatic heap.