Album Review: Broads & Milly Hirst – ‘Ollust’.

The Broads of 2019 produced restless, glitch-pressured harsh warnings of songs that tied hard edged no-tronica to beauty and calm. With as much fear as warmth emanating in pulses, last year’s LP, ‘A Small Box Over A Global Goal’, was a twisting contortion of rush and relief.    

But this new decade’s Broads have moved forward. They’re advancing in stirring directions. We’ve stripped down and grown focus, we’ve shifted the tone, we’ve evolved with a jolt into a wholly new species where patience rewards repeat listens. Almost gone are the burnt shades and paranoid bursts, though they still hang like smoke in the background. Instead we’re gently embedded into unhurried tracks that emerge and unfold in slow motion.

As we move at the speed of Eluvium and The Caretaker’s masterful ‘Everywhere, An Empty Bliss’, the opening ‘Happisburgh’ flows from a single piano that plays as much with the hushed push and rubbing of keys, as it does with the notes that spill outward. A natural room reverb keeps tones hanging loose as we move through progressions and chords. And gradually, gently, with deliberate direction, we start layering the wheeze of a bellows like static that expands and contracts like a cracked set of lungs. Footsteps on gravel, a worn organ drone, a prolonged exposure to white noise and whispers, and we glide back to time stretched piano. Not a moment of almost nine minutes feels lost as we slip from one song to the next.

At these speeds we find new things to look for; the emergence of new forms and echoes, aftersounds that exist in the background, the glitter of nature and natural recordings, lost voices and twistings of wind. Then we glide towards the mid-point of ‘Thetford’, when familiar crisp glitches of last year’s LP start to bleed in with dilating synths. Scattered flecks of fools gold bounce from speaker to speaker and we’re caught in irregular drifts.‘Ollust’ might be slower and harder to grasp, but that mix of warm/warning persists. 

There are parts of this album that exist like lost photos as they creep into focus and fade. They stand out and sway and wane into the next until only their stain’s left remaining.

As these soft and uneasy-shift bodies of work span their eight, nine and twelve minute movements, through their mix of untouched and perversely formed sounds, something strange tilts the weight of the album. Two shorter set-pieces, not just interlude acts, break the slow swells and tension based textures.

‘Oulton’ takes Milly Hirst’s voice and reshapes it to cascades of cathedral chimes, and when her easy-breathe samples match the clatter of bells there’s a dance on the back of my neck. That spider tap tingle of thin silver legs starts to pricks all small hairs to attention. It’s over in minuets, it’s left half forgotten, it ’s a detail that sticks through the album.    

And ‘Dereham’ that serves us the album’s last track… As it scrapes all the cut sounds of music in making, we move into Dirty Three territory. Every ditched scratch and rasp, every unwanted wheeze, every lost pedal creak, every cast aside noise, they spin their own weave of intentions. Almost untouched by reverb we loop and repeat and we end at the album’s most natural. For all the attention and love that got tied to these tracks, and for all of their poised excitations, ‘Dereham’ somehow reminds that accidents happen and rough parts are just as important.           

This collaborative work between Broads and Milly Hirst finds a home in intensive close listening. How well we engage will entirely depend on the time we give ‘Ollust’ to settle.

‘Ollust’ is out now on vinyl, CD and streaming, with highlights as always on Rats On Run Radio.

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