Beggars Banquet / 4AD
Xian Hawkins, a multi-instrumentalists and former member of The Silver Apples (their ’90s incarnation, not the ’60s version), has created a captivating aural landscape on his first release for the 4AD label. An incredible arranger, Hawkins melds samples, electronic and real instruments into a breathtaking organic whole. Although one would have to use the term “electronica” loosely in describing Nonument, it certainly defines what it takes to succeed with this style. Too often, electronica artists take listeners on a journey that begins and ends nowhere. With Sybarite, each track reflects a deft touch and an awareness of what it takes to hold the listener=EDs attention without overwhelming them with details. It is no surprise that Hawkins reveals a deep appreciation for the work of architect, Renzo Piano (who he names a track after on this release), as he reflects an architect’s awareness of form and the careful manipulation of design through structure.
The opening track, “Secropia,” is an excellent example of Hawkins skill, building as it does, from a few stray keyboard notes, which hang as if being tossed about by some cruel winter chill. A synthesizer quickly augments the melody, only to have the melody in turn be taken over by a violin before they both coalesce and share the listener’s attention. All this continues with a steady metronomic violin sample in the background keeping time until, at the end, Hawkins brings out his trumpet and changes direction for the listener. In fact, there’s more than this going on in this song but it would be difficult to capture on the landmarks the listener passes on his journey.
This is a very good album that rewards its listeners with repeated performances. Although perhaps it is expecting too much in the era of disposable entertainment, but Nonument is an album that requires its listeners to expend some attention to fully appreciate the complexity, nuances and artistry that Hawkins has invested in it. A curious listener, however, will be amply rewarded.