Serein Records (SER013), 2007
A nest, in my view, is intended to be a place of serenity and refuge. A safe place where you can completely lose yourself with no concern about what may happen. It’s fitting, then, that the duo Nest uses delicate melodies of calming piano edged with minimal electronic treatment as the foundation of their debut EP, Nest. A nest that creates a nest? Sounds ideal.
Otto A. Totland (Deaf Center) and Huw Roberts (Hidden Rivers) started their friendship while working with the Miasmah label, and their Nest project is a collaboration that doesn’t sound like one. The two artists show tremendous chemistry on their debut, with Totland’s piano meshing naturally with Roberts’ assortment of subtle washes and treatments. I’m reminded of Nighthawks, the collaboration of Harold Budd, John Foxx, and Ruben Garcia, but Nest’s piano isn’t as minimal as Budd’s trademark icy reverb. Totland’s keys are more intimate, gliding slowly through melancholic and cinematic melodies, pausing with just enough emphasis, perfectly enhanced by Roberts’ atmospherics.
The opener, “Lodge,” provides an ideal glimpse at this structure, as the plaintive, wistful piano meanders through a soft synthetic haze. “Marefjellet” and “Charlotte” are more somber and reflective, with the latter breaching into bittersweet sentimentality. Nest adds instrumentation here as well, as you’ll hear plucked harp and strings. The strings are taken to a level of buried tension on “Cad Goddeau,” and the looped woodwinds and sampled crows increasing the air of expectancy. As you might expect from the title, the flavor of “Kyoto” is distinctly Asian; the short plucked-string salvos conjure an unmistakable aura. Rain hisses and crackles in the background, dissolving into the pops and spits of a fire. Such attention to detail is expanded on “Trans Siberian,” which is the most ambient track on the album. Roberts takes the spotlight, his light drone and electronic noise borders the sounds of train and static-drenched samples of old records. The piano is reduced to a few minimal, but effective chords, perhaps conveying the loneliness of a train winding slowly through a curtain of falling snow.
At a scant 28 minutes in length, Nest could be viewed as an EP rather than an album proper, but it carries more depth than many albums twice its length. It’s striking how well Totland and Roberts work together, especially as this is their debut. Their musical sanctuary isn’t just a place of refuge; though it certainly succeeds as such, there’s much more going on below the surface, should you want to look deeper. Nest has made a remarkable piece of ambiance that works on multiple levels, and reveals itself a bit more with each listen. Whether you just let it enfold you, or you venture to create hidden worlds out of these structures, Nest will provide.