It’s not shocking that wanderlust leads to homesickness. In the case of Summer of Glaciers’ new record, Small Spaces, that homesickness can lead to an album. The one-man-band being Ryan Wasterlain’s previous record Concentric was very enamored with San Francisco. The sounds of that album were full of city lights, fog, concrete, and ocean air. Small Spaces on the other hand, doesn’t sound so much like it’s about his new home in Dallas, it sounds like it’s looking back home through a telescope, and the city is simply floating further and further out of view.
With this record, Wasterlain adds his vocals to the foray of guitar loops, drum machines, electronic glitches and post-rock crescendos. A lot of guitar players tend to fumble on this transition and are uncertain of their comfort zone. Wasterlain doesn’t have this problem; he gives his voice the same abstract treatments as his guitar. The record opens with “Inches Mean Miles”, where a simple 2 line lyric is almost indecipherable as it rolls through heavy delay, ironically expressing loneliness in multitude. Guitars come and go by the dozen, sometimes sounding like anything but a guitar, in this song vaguely sounding like a trumpet at points.
Wasterlain doesn’t write songs, he writes albums. The build up of “Inches Mean Miles” morphs into “To the Ground”, a track which brings back some of the night driving energy of Concentric. The vocals are so saturated in distortion that they simply become an abstract instrument in the mix with no lyrics being intelligible. The energy chugs along with a darker tone before the car eventually crashes and everything slows to a crawl. This drone leads into “Elevators”.
Somewhat unusually chosen for a single and a video, “Elevators” is pretty minimal compared to the tracks that came before it, but probably represents the theme set better. The song slowly moves up in a linear fashion, but remains claustrophobic until the end. Soft singing is accompanied by a guitar trekking along underneath, and the noises and melodies just build on top from there, but never expand. This and the record’s other isolated moments are the small spaces for which it is named, and they lend a poignancy to Wasterlain’s emotional state after how wide open his prior output sounded.
The record’s second half kind of lingers in the air and plays as a whole. It adopts the Brian Eno philosophy of not demanding your attention. Melodies drone on, additional parts creep in without you noticing, and the feeling of loneliness grows further. “Removal” opens as what could almost be considered a piano ballad, with the vocal performance being more ragged and vaguely hostile. The guitar sounds more like a synth and is abrasive, but mixed so it just lurks on you. “When We Part” wraps up the album with sombre tones and words, “Will you come back for me some day? Time is all we have to lose.” This line repeats continuously, and is deconstructed as if on a breaking down recorder, and everything falls apart around it. The ultimate message is, no, nobody’s coming back for you, now or ever.
I was initially surprised that the press materials said the mp3 version came with a bonus track that the CD didn’t. It just seemed backward to me. After hearing it, it made sense. “The Use of Mirrors” doesn’t fit in on Small Spacesat all. Mostly, the song seems to rise out of a feeling of despair, gets in motion again and starts to progress out of the funk that preceded it. It sounds like it should be the first song on the next album, where that idea would be explored as a complete thought.
I like this album, obviously for different reasons than Concentric. I’m really impressed that the emotional message cut so clearly through the swamp of electronics. Naturally, this record probably isn’t for you if you prefer your music upbeat and sunny. I got in touch with Mr. Wasterlain the other day and told him that this made his last album look like Sgt Pepper in terms of mood. I personally find it easy to relate to, and I’m curious to see what the next direction is going to be.
Listen to Small Spaces below.
Small Spaces by Summer of Glaciers
The video for “Elevators”: