On Kinbrae’s website, you can listen to a sound map of Coll, the island which inspired the band’s new album, Tidal Patterns.
Clicking an array of map pins reveals field recordings from the island: the slushy trickling of Lonban stream, the drone of a ferry; contact mics pick up the sound of whirring wind, the rusty clinking of a fence.
Tidal Patterns itself is a psychogeographic landscape of sound, memory and emotion; listening to it in full feels like travelling between places both comforting and familiar, between secret cocoons of sound and vistas of open, unexplored space.
Kinbrae have mastered a balance between music concréte and something more classical, even subtly orchestral; all songs are instrumental and mix samples of island soundscapes with layers of smooth brass and soaring melodies, accompanied by soft pulsing drums and sometimes a lean drone of organ or bass.
Throughout the album, piano provides the compositional structure: at times, it is the driving force of musical development (‘Aerial View’); elsewhere, the notes appear as if pulled clear from a soft fog of field noise (as on ‘05:45’), accompanied by tranquil and often legato brass, swelling to melodic heights.
Opening track ‘The Dawn Chorus’ begins with faint trills of brass which peek through a mist of hoarse and haunting synths; twittering birds adding space and dimension to the long and soothing notes.
On some of the tracks, there’s a twinkling ethereality not unlike the delicate vocals and xylophone echoes of Bjork’s Vespertine; ‘Isolated Sketch’ is structured around the chiming arpeggios of a celesta mixing with the sound of a creaking gate, the trembles of flighty melodies and muted whir of wind.
There’s a sense in which this music is ambient, something you can sink into; the piano is at times warm and comforting (‘Lonban at Dusk’) and the artful layering of field recordings with drones and percussive ripples lends a spatial expansiveness to the music, the sense of moving across planes of terrain with every chord change.
Appropriate to its location, Tidal Patterns often feels remote, with eerie fragments of sound looming as if from a distance.
This is especially noticeable on ‘Dark Skies’, where such remoteness creates a texture of space, crystallised in the moments of hesitation, of concrete noises before the entrance of a clear brass melody, the perambulations of a piano pedal weaving together to evoke the slow-building uplift of climax, like climbing the summit of a hill.
The album also contains more cinematic songs; ‘Malin’ begins with the dramatic, harmonic wavers of strings (the sweetness of viola and darker tones of cello) which are eventually accompanied by strong and alluring brass.
There is a sense of tenderness and ambience, but also one of awe; the legato notes of horn and cornet feel majestic, threaded around the murmurs of rippling kalimba and the drone of an organ, often rising to something more sublime.
You could easily imagine listening to this album while viewing Coll from an aerial perspective, drifting through fragments of land and open ocean, occasionally floating closer to the grainy details of wildlife and geography in sync with various points of musical precision.
With the subtlety of a Max Richter soundtrack, the ordering of songs follows the diurnal experience of rising from the atmospheric dawn chorus of birds to the twilit vibrations of ‘Lonban at Dusk’ to the breathtakingly spacious final track ‘Constellations’, a last glance at a sky of scattered stars before darkening to a soporific close.
Most of the tracks focus on the liminal parts of a day – dawn and dusk – and this resonates with the record’s general sense of the special and strange, as if Kinbrae deliberately expand these slivers of time, rendering them as portals of deep contemplation.
Overall, it’s a record that blends nostalgia for the purity of a musical journey, for the raw soundscapes of remote land, with an orchestral precision that allows for warmth and hopeful joy, reflecting the natural beauty of Coll.
As the tide pulls in and out, as the moon waxes and wanes from night to night, with Tidal Patterns Kinbrae have achieved something which appears timeless, woven irrevocably into the natural environment, matching musically its cyclical rhythms, its physical dynamism.
Words: Maria Sledmere