Something I’ve often said, though I suspect mostly outside of HearFeel, is that one of my overwhelming feelings in Ian William Craig’s music is that of romance. It’s not a sentiment I’ve seen, well, anywhere else actually, and I felt a little bit validated in my thoughts after listening to his latest EP Slow Vessels, populated by stripped back pieces from from previously full-length Centres. By paring back and eschewing much of the characteristic fuzz and scuzz found in most every other track of his, we’re suddenly presented with the acoustic heart of these songs, and subsequently all the emotional baggage they’re burdened with.
EP centerpiece “Contain” we’ve already seen in its duel incarnations sandwiching Centres, but this time it returns as an almost half-way house between its obliterated “Astoria” variant and latterly minimal “Cedar” version. Piano strokes hover tentatively out of the mix as Craig sings openly and earnestly in this intimate ballad:
“The future in your folded palm
How I long to walk that line”
We treasure the moments in her presence, between the threatening instances of distance that the EP as well as the LP frequent. There’s a future of togetherness that Craig yearns for deeply, but doesn’t always appear to be reciprocated. Take incredible closer “Set To Lapse”: one of my favourite pieces of his, now reworked, it finds itself reduced to the bone as it coos angelically into conclusive oblivion. “These hands are set to lapse; never knowing what to say” he sings lightly, before tumbling into the oppressive, impassioned melancholy of its final moments. “When we let go” he adds, the crushed vocals spiralling into a static void, sound tearing at the seams at the separation.
Elsewhere we feel the paradoxes of romance, will-they, won’t-theys and other such confusions that didn’t feel so overt in the original pieces. Highlight “The Nearness” transmutes into another heartfelt piano crooner, chords emerging drily from the haze he croons on the danger of their nearness, the intoxicating closeness that at once both drives them powerfully together and yet magnetically away. The second half collapses into a pained yet passionate drone expanse, burning with pink buzzings and tinkling piano nothings; it doesn’t give a shit, self-destruction be damned, there is passion in this moment. Alas, there’s hope, no course is permanent, no path fixed. “Purpose (Is No Country)” borders on the whimsical, practically folksy in its jaunty little guitar pickings and obscure, painterly lyrics.
“You are revealed again
You are a constant surprise
Longing for roots and a steady hand
But purpose is no country you can find”
It craves stability, directionality, but where’s the fun in those things? The aimless wandering that precedes the course, neigh, finds the course, is more entertaining and educating: there needs to be carefree abandon first, and we shouldn’t rush this phase before we settle into inertia.
Centres wasn’t a straightforward record to digest, yet somehow the six pieces presented here both help us toward understanding and simultaneously push us away. Revealing the lyrics both enlightens and confounds; the diversification in style is welcome and unsettling; mostly though this is a gorgeous collection of acoustic remixes that anyone who has previously listened to Craig’s work will find intriguing, and anyone who hasn’t should find palatable and interesting nonetheless.