Dronarivm (DR-33), 2015
According to Wil Bolton, his album Inscriptions was inspired by “the melancholy romance of autumn, the reflection of leaves in the rippling surface of a lake, crumbling architectural facades, and faded ink scripts on parchment.” With these words, he proves to be a poet with words as well as music. Beginning with field recordings in and around a town in Estonia, Bolton added layers of acoustic guitar, filtered effects, and various synths to create an album of resounding beauty and profound reflection.
Listening to Inscriptions is much like sitting somewhere quietly, with no particular place to be, and letting the surroundings drift through you. It’s a singular experience, but with tiny incidental details that flicker and fade like a sequence of dimly recalled memories. Bolton has lifted sampled elements from a park, a town square, and a lake (among others), and they’re buried here and there: buzzing insects, birds, wind, and water. Inscriptions is a tribute to the natural world, enhanced by Bolton’s keen eye for detail and deft instrumentation. You can let it buoy you along and lose yourself in its pastoral palette of hazy, washed-out solitude, or dissect its diverse yet cohesive arrangement of sound and flow.
“Hedera” may sound repetitive on the surface, but the looped string drones hide a remarkable array of plucked guitar, piano, and field recording; there’s an ever-changing scenery here, just like there would be if you lingered lakeside for an hour or three. “Seep” samples the distant voices of children and covers them with a coating of guitar and delicate static; it’s almost as if Bolton has found a portal to the past in the corner of some isolated tree-lined field, and has brought back the fluttering shadow of history for us to ponder.
While Inscriptions is conceptually solid and technically excellent, there’s one structural element that I noticed at first listen: the tracks don’t evolve much beyond their opening moments. Bolton brings in his mix of autumnal washes, drifting instrumentation, and environmental samples, but once everything is established, there’s little to no movement. This is clearly by design, true, but I wonder if Bolton’s compositions would be even more effective if they were deconstructed a bit on the fly. The closing moments of “Cathedral Lines” hint at this, with the beds of atmosphere being gradually stripped away until only a fluttering guitar and synth sequence remain; this shows how adept Bolton is at combining his sounds, while also providing a bit of motion and progress to the music. By the time “Cathedral Lines” is reached, the template of Inscriptions has become familiar, and my mind begins to wander. One more thing: at forty-eight minutes in length, Inscriptions has always seemed longer than it really is. I attribute this to the staid and static nature of the album in general; no matter how well-done and effective it is, the selfsame foundation of each of the five tracks does tend to reduce the impact by the album’s close. “Cathedral Lines” does amplify this by being the longest track on the album, too.
All considered, however, Wil Bolton has stolen a fragment of the rural corner of the world and spirited it away, delivering it in the guise of Inscriptions. An album that soothes and inspires in equal doses, it music that is ideal for breaking away from the breakneck pace of modern life, for the forgotten art of lingering, and for a calm regard of the beauty of the small everyday things that we normally take for granted.