Julia Kent – Green And Grey

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The solo work of cellist Julia Kent deals in different ways with concepts of borders and of spaces which are neither one thing nor the other. Her first solo record, Delay, was based on that most modern (and Eno-esque) of limbos, the airport. Having crossed the globe in a number of different ensembles, most famously as a member of Antony and the Johnsons, but also with a range of more leftfield acts such as Rasputina, Burnt Sugar, Angels Of Light and Stars Of The Lid, she found she was spending rather a lot of time trapped in those places, and elected to use them to her advantage. She made recordings in airports, and used them as the foundation for Delay, naming the resulting tracks after the airports in which they were recorded. The title of her second album for Important suggests she has found the way out, but only to another place betwixt and between: the place where the grey of the city meets the green of the countryside. And exactly how much of an escape that turns out to be is open to question.

Green And Grey opens and closes with cicadas, stridulating in the evening air, with Kent’s looped cello building upon the samples to create the compositions. In between, there are tracks named after trees (“Ailanthus”), water (“Acquario”), landscape features (“Overlook”) and constellations (“Pleiades”), but also in one case, a building (“Spire”). It seems at first listen that Kent is outside, recording the sounds of the natural world, in order to inspire her work. The natural rhythms of those insects, the gurgle of water, the patter of raindrops, all find a musical echo in the tracks which follow them. So in a number of ways, the modus operandi hasn’t changed from Delay, it is just the location (or rather the locations) which is different. What is most telling here, however, is just how unobtrusive the recordings are. They are but brief snatches of very quiet sounds, the merest hints of the ambience of the outside world.

Leaving aside Eno (whether she draws from him intentionally or not), you have an album which takes similar cues as the likes of Johann Johannsson and Max Richter, or perhaps Hildur Gudnadottir with her more diaphonous cello work Without Sinking: modern, melancholic, minimalist, classical. However, in a sense trying to pigeonhole her records goes against their very essence: they seem to be born of a desire to break out, to escape. The short, churning rhythmic loops which underpin so many of these pieces act like an anchor, these ostinati counteracting the melody line’s desire to take the piece into different landscapes.

The more you listen, the more it begins to feel like, despite first impressions, this is less a record about the physical border between the city and the country, and more one about a mental border. The sound of echoing footsteps in “Ailanthus” suggest we haven’t even left the building, while the water heard in “Acquario” may even be the sound of a fishtank, rather than a stream. The cicadas are just as likely to be heard through an open window; let’s face it, you aren’t going to be plugging in a looping pedal in the park. As the surge of those song-like melodies is once more halted in its tracks, you feel that on Green And Grey Kent is as trapped in the city as she ever was in the airport. With the urge to escape to nature being defeated time and time again by more mundane concerns, sometimes all a city dweller can do is dream of leaving.