Nashville – New York-based artist Sarah Lipstate, who records her instrumental arrangements under the title Noveller, has completed yet another impressive array of her characteristic eerie compositions. Fantastic Planet (via Fire Records) follows 2011’s Glacial Glow, which garnered a slew of favorable reviews. Nearly four years later, Lipstate has managed to maintain that same deft hand and sharp ear in her compositions.
Instrumental music can sometimes feel too isolating, and it seems that it never quite attracts the attention it deserves. In this case, however, Fantastic Planet presents a series of sounds so perfectly atmospheric that they require nothing else layered on top. In fact, vocals would weigh down the tissue-thin, featherweight sounds that float effortlessly from track to track. This is rarely achieved, but when it happens, it’s incredibly special.
Such is Fantastic Planet. Equal parts dark and buoyant, the album is moved by a conversation of synth waves, strings, and the intermittent guitar pluck. Each song answers the one before it, and what remains by the record’s end is a solid feeling of contentment. Nothing is left unintentionally open ended, even when nothing is tied up in a neat little bow. It’s messy in all the right moments, just before thinning out into a wavering echo. Fantastic Planet is everything that ambient sound aspires to achieve, and then some.
The album starts out spare and ghostly, creeping along, punctuated occasionally by the strum of a deep bass. The beautiful thing about purely instrumental work is the synthetic quality that accompanies the sound—it’s not difficult to visualize a landscape or even colorful scenes. One really does get the feeling that they’re encountering a physical place that exists outside of this terrestrial realm, and in Lipstate’s newest release, the idea of a “fantastic planet” is made real.
Some song titles reflect this idea of entering a somewhat familiar, but mostly indistinct scene. Depicting these places in songs “Into the Dunes” and “Rubicon,” Lipstate does some of the mental picturing for us, providing listeners with her take on the visual framework. “No Unholy Mountain” is particularly striking in this way—it fades in with the most delicate chords and it’s not hard to imagine a sunrise, or a starry, twinkling night. But it still enters darkly, cautiously, and slightly foreboding. It’s a beautiful ballet of moods.
Lipstate remains nothing less than a master of instrumental nuance, and Fantastic Planet is no exception. Among these many finely tuned elements, perhaps the largest achievement here is the sheer, unbreakable consistency present within the nine-song set. While each song sounds different enough to stand on its own, there’s a balanced fluidity to the work that carries the listener swiftly through the album. Is it possible for something to be relaxing and stimulating all at once? I think that Lipstate proves that, yes, this is certainly possible—and awesome.
Fantastic Planet, though deliberately tentative, still emerges less experimental than its 2011 predecessor. This record demonstrates a certain confidence in its subtlety as Lipstate has continued to grow and feel at home within her work. While not an exclamation, Fantastic Planet is perhaps a whisper of triumph—unnecessarily humble considering the level of skill present within this entire album.
Noveller has only one live date planned so far (February 4 at The Wick in Brooklyn). Be sure keep an eye out for other dates via her Facebook.
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