Contrary to its title, Ryan Teague’s future classic LP “Block Boundaries” is in the same league as Nils Frahm’s exhilarating ‘Spaces’ live culling project. Making firm use of arpeggios as a tour de force on opening track ‘Site And Situation’, the album collects gentle fissuring exercises in melodically-coated rhythmical machination.
Way back in 2012 was Teague’s previous solo album on Village Green. Prior to that was “Causeway” on Sonic Pieces. A constant refining of Teague’s production skills is evident over the last 4 years, though the study remains focused on a sensual psychogeography hinted at by references in track titles (the Giant’s Causeway was a subject 4 years ago; track names on the latest LP spotlight mathematical precision in relation to nature).
What most impresses on “Block Boundaries” is the sheer gradation between small musical gesture (take the jutting cello layer on the opener, for example) and resonant, grandiose melodic articulacy. This tapestry uproots the fundamentals of groove music (house, funk, techno) and marries it with the javelin-parabola altitude of the sharpest contemporary classical highs. On the title piece, Teague indulges in randomly-hit higher-register piano notes to scaffold the interest levels while turning on a stylistic lock.
As a general rule, the more arpeggios you add to something in new music, the closer it gets to either folk (if acoustic instruments) or Kosmiche Muzak (think the psychedelic deviations and deceptions of Tangerine Dream, or more commercially, Jean Michel Jarre). The ‘Diversion 1 / 2’ pieces on “Block Boundaries” aspire to such heights of shimmering synthesis, alleviating the tension built up in beautiful blocks of melting candle-lit wax. The highlight tune on the album is without doubt ‘Scale And Ratio’, especially when sequenced after the gorgeous ‘Diversion 1’: the horn-like frays and soaring strings form a counterpoint to marimba arpeggio-pond-skating. The mood is at once wistful and contemplative, suggesting for the first time an expansion of the album title. What boundaries are being blocked? Is the idea to transcendentally introspect to spill past creative boundaries? It would seem so.
The second half ups the groove ante with house-y beats instead of arpeggios powering the rhythm section. ‘Liminal Space’ sounds like Robert Miles’ ‘Children’ reworked by Blue Six, taking the trance aspect truly deeper, while woodblock snares soon sneak into the ultramundane foreground. Gorging on a kind of narcotic catharsis, there’s enough syncopative rise and release to drive things on. The LP’s average 4-minute track length here feels longer, but the wonderfully encapsulating sounds could have easily gone on for 10 minutes.
‘Remote Outliers’ is the only track with vocals, choral melismas at that. The choir adds necessary variation but perhaps sing for a little too long in the grand scheme of things, as their voices are not juxtaposed with any counterpoint elements besides quiet synth intrusions. They do create a nice time/space schism however, as proved by ‘Animated Landscape’, for me the second top track in this collection of instrumentals with ‘Diversion 1’ closely following. It has the magnitude in the piano chords and their dissection of prog to be compared to the lofty Procol Harum. Given all Teague’s transmissions for film and BBC Radio 3 in the past, this would seem a plumbing of that gravitas; the more maudlin, forlorn ‘End Of The Line’ is like a sad lament, a weighty send-off for one of the records of 2014.
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Photo by Jennifer G