Thresholder, the new album from Vancouver’s Ian William Craig, returns to the emerald-beauty of Centres (2016). The arias look to ascend, but they also dissolve in the magnetic acid of a decaying tape. Thresholder’s music is washed clean and scourged in abrasion, the sound glooping like drops of honey or hot wax and then feeling the ongoing whiplash of the background noise, which in turn affects the music’s output through the opening of fractures. The background sounds add to the harmonies, creating a special texture. Cracks, hisses, and scribbles are all burnt onto the skin of the record, brandished with tattoos of love rather than some kind of ownership. Some of the tracks date back to A Turn of Breath and Centres. Some were recorded in his old studio in Vancouver, some at home, and one was recorded in a secret underground cistern in Sweden.
Ian William Craig is inspired by quantum physics, black holes, and infinite space, and Thresholder echoes into the cosmos, its vocals resonating like a Benedictine chant as it slaps off the walls, creating a natural reverb. Ian’s voice is gorgeous, becoming euphoric as it rises against the frayed and drooling backdrop of the tape and its irregular, peeling soundscapes.
Synths give off the warm light of sunset’s glow – spherical, without edges – when the burning sounds, coupled with the tape’s imperfections, could otherwise let in a record-eating harshness, abrasive in its enmity.
The music’s frail thanks to its warbling, turbulent vocal and the permanent tinnitus of tape hiss, mirroring the fragility of living on a rock that hangs suspended in the dark of space. The death of something so bright as a star is proof that nothing is immune to decay, and the vocals become gravelly, too. The hiss is a leak of cosmic radiation, and Ian’s voice burns brightly in the unfiltered sunshine, both anointed and condemned. Ian William Craig’s sublime voice is an instrument, but so are the customised tape decks. A Boss Loop Station, a Prophet ’08 synth, and an acoustic guitar are also used. Recording device and instrument, there’s no separation here. So close is the music to its production that the track ‘TC-377 Poem’ is named after the Sony tape deck Ian was using at the time of recording, and the voice drags itself against the tape head.
Additional vocals are left to unspool with the continued running of the tape, coming into contact with one another and passing through with ease. The tracks glide into each other, the opening chants of ‘Elided’ slipping into the swelling harmonies of ‘Some Absolute Means’, where the chords feel like majestic progressions against the meek voice. Those chords are intentionally sharper than usual, but they’re still not enough to puncture the vocal. The unstable sound-world is in danger of collapse – it’s inevitable – but there’s still wondrous beauty to be found in the decline. The effervescent atmosphere is one of unceasing evolution, and its blossoming expansion leaks into the air, in line with the ongoing inhalation of the Universe.