nêhiyawak's Matthew Cardinal Drifts into Astral Ambience on 'Asterisms'
Published Oct 26, 2020For such improvisational, airy music, there's little breathing room on Matthew Cardinal's Asterisms — no long stretches of silence, no pieces that drift by on wisps of lonesome tone. It's a substantial and constantly shifting record — a sky of billowing clouds, heavy with texture and depth. Cardinal's debut solo record sometimes feels pulled from the same haunted waters as nipiy, the debut full-length from his band nêhiyawak. It's an altogether quieter and more astral creation, however, an entirely wordless snowfall.
The sounds throughout are uniform — crystalline swirls of analogue and modular synths, electric piano and tiers of processed voice, all of it dissolving in reverb — and on first listen, most individual tracks are indistinguishable from those around them. The emotional rhythms, while moving and enriching, are opaque and ambiguous. Though the pieces are described as snapshots of Cardinal's emotional and mental state at specific periods, they're unbound by any kind of narrative or obvious sonic cues — like peering into Cardinal's mind through a pane of frosted glass.
The overall effect is that of being caught on a powerful draft of wind — there is rise and fall, subtle changes in temperature and light, but you'll need to fill in the specifics yourself. There are exceptions — more obvious peaks and valleys that reveal themselves in time. The brief, pooling "May 25th" feels like a series of deep inhales, while the icy "August 23rd" moves with spidery paranoia, tense slivers of sound layering like stiff frost. It's these small glimmers of clear emotional intention that give Asterisms its anchor — its obscurity not due to lack of conviction, but an understanding that few things we feel are so easily explained. (Arts & Crafts)