In the eighteen months since Danielle Baquet-Long passed away, there have already been upwards of a dozen albums worth of material released which were recorded by her and her husband Will Long before her untimely death. Especially given the quiet, introspective nature of all this music, there comes a point where you have to wonder just how much more there is to say, or how many ways there are of saying it; even the title of this latest album may almost be verging on self-parody. But not for the first time, I’m confounded; once again I have found myself buying a Celer record, listening to it, and being stopped in my tracks by the powerful glare from its reflections. This new album, Vestiges Of An Inherent Melancholy, is a captivating journey – not just to a particular country, and to a particular time, but also to a very particular, and very personal, state of mind.
Vestiges Of An Inherent Melancholy is Celer’s second LP for the Blackest Rainbow label, after the dense collage of dark, deep, drones that was Dwell In Possibility. Despite the typically lengthy list of source sounds on Vestiges (cello, violin, pipe organ, field recordings, tape, samples, electronics), it is a simpler, and much more emotionally direct construction than that release. The front cover is decorated with a photo of Buddhist prayer flags draped across a dusty street, the bright colours seemingly having been drained from it by the ravages of time: it was in fact taken nine years ago by Baquet-Long during a lengthy stay in Nepal. Two “tracks” (while nine are delineated by title on the record’s sleeve, they seep into each other to effectively give two long continuous pieces) also feature field recordings made in Kathmandu.
Nepal is a country of such dramatic contrasts, from the warm, lush, tropical rainforests of the south to the cold, rocky Himalayas of the north, from the simplicity of rural living to the capital’s many complexities. In 2002, in both the peaceful Buddhist villages and the bustling chaos of the (primarily Hindu) capital there must have been a sense of exhaustion, worry and hope about recent events and forthcoming changes. A royal family had just been all but wiped out, an event which, when combined with a strengthening Maoist faction, was destined to lead to dramatic changes in the state’s status, changes which have still not fully stabilised. Vestiges Of An Inherent Melancholy is equally full of contrast, with those sections of extremely animated (and even slightly frightening) chatter slicing into sections of prayer-like serenity, with lush melodies appearing from amidst barren backdrops.
But much more than being simply an ode to Nepal, it feels like it’s more generally a reflection on transition, on a time when sadness for what was being lost was tempered by hope for the future. A quote from the film The Third Man on the album’s second side brings us back to post-war Vienna; similarly broken, burnt out and yet somehow optimistic. Yet underpinning the album there is that sensation, common to the hauntological musical canon, that all has not turned out as was hoped; that, to quote from Leyland Kirby’s most recent project, “sadly, the future is no longer what it was”. Sad, slow snatches of orchestral melody seem doomed to play out over and over, degraded and withered with time, giving much of the album the mood of work by Philip Jeck or indeed Kirby himself. The happy songs of old are transformed by the passage of time into something very different, very personal, and very poignant. When taken in conjunction with everything we know about the premature end to the Celer project, these Vestiges Of An Inherent Melancholy are at times almost unbearable.