There are moments on Quartet, where Vladislav Delay manages to capture the sound of humanity laid bare and humbled, the feeling that follows on from the breakdown of modern society. Unsurprisingly then, the comparison to Cormac McCarthy’s desolate novel The Road are apposite for tracks like “Minus Degrees, Bare Feet, Tickles”, where Delay, ably accompanied by fellow Finnish experimentalist Mika Vainio as well as Derek Shirley and Lucy Capece, delivers a fin de monde wall of drones, barely restrained feedback and, as an outro, a death march stomp. A similar approach is audible on “Hohtokivi”, but here the mood is even tenser, with a humming bassline trailing off into abstraction thanks to a noisy interference.
However, unlike McCarthy’s opus, Quartet also shows that the human spirit can overcome disaster. “Santa Teresa” for example, which follows “Minus Degrees”, is almost upbeat by comparison, its double bass groove augmented by atmospheric pads and squealing sax lines. “Killing The Water Bed” adopts a similar tact, but nudges the foursome further away from their experimental bent and towards the dance floor thanks to its pounding drums and heavy bass. Then Delay and his collaborators focus their energies on redemption and healing rather than doom and desperation. The muffled keys and lumbering bass of “Presentiment” suggest that there are hints of light in their canon, while the clipped beats and squealing sax – this time more celebratory than the nightmarish world painted out by “Hohtokivi”. That’s not to suggest that Delay and his collaborators have flip-flopped between themes or moods. While there are some flirtations with optimism, the overall mood is sombre and downbeat, as captured on the somnambulant finale, “Salt Flat”. Gloom rarely sounded so compelling.