I always maintained that, when writing this blog, I would be open to people suggesting albums to me to review (this is where my Chthonic review came from, cheers Andy). What I never thought would happen would be someone personally asking me to review their album because that presents an awkward situation: should I be inclined to give it a good review purely to save face or should I be unafraid to tell the individual that their album is indeed terrible and they had wasted their time? Thankfully, when I was asked by [STØY] to review his album, "[Ø]", I did not have to worry about this issue because, quite frankly, the music that he has created is all kinds of intriguing and amazing.
[STØY] is a one-man project from Huddersfield-based musician Jason Booth. His work combines ambient sound design, making use of abstract recording techniques and locations, with a more traditional, musical approach to create a sound that is really quite unique. "[Ø]" is a collection of [STØY]'s early works that were written for short films, with one track being featured as the music on the promo video for Leeds graffiti artist CBLOXX.
One of the things that struck me early on was the strong sense of location that each track on "[Ø]" gives. Opener "For Crows" sounds cold, dark and is reminiscent of something you are more likely to find on a Black Metal record whilst "Lullaby" reminds me more of the Final Fantasy compositions of Nobuo Uematsu. It is this variety that helps to hold the listener's attention and allows a certain level of escape. Indeed, the best way to enjoy this record is to close your eyes and let yourself be fully immersed in the soundscapes on offer, only then can it be truly appreciated.
As a former Music Technology student, I was drawn into the level of detail that has gone into each and every single track on "[Ø]". Speaking about "Lapse", Booth said the following:
"For "Lapse" I took a trip to Templeworks in Leeds, an old grade 1 listed flax mill that once housed "the largest room in the world". It was a massively inspiring place and I took a bag full of portable recording equipment, various percussion mallets and sticks, a cello bow and a few random instruments. I basically went around all day whacking big pipes in big rooms and throwing things to get crazy reverberating clashes and bangs."
"The most exciting bit was when I came across a room full of old knackered pianos. The strings were exposed on most of them and I plucked and bowed them as well as playing the out-of-tune pianos in massive spaces. It was epic. I also did stuff like playing radiators and bowing old light fittings; it was lots of fun."
It is clear that Booth is a very passionate musician and his attention to detail on "Lapse" is clear throughout with the use of panning, natural reverbs and other production techniques creating a massively atmospheric feel. What makes all the tracks on "[Ø]" even more interesting, from my perspective, is that I am often left trying to guess where sounds originated from. Throughout listening I was always thinking "Was that a ping pong ball? Is that a spray paint can?" and for anyone that has done work similar to [STØY] this is a fun element that keeps things interesting.
Something else that is very well done with "[Ø]" is that it is truly accessible to any potential listener. You don't need to have a solid grasp on sound design, nor do you need to be a particular fan of ambient music to appreciate it. The use of percussive elements on tracks like "Kukubi" gives the tracks a much more musical feel, which means there is something for everyone. The varied use of instruments such as guitars, pianos and cellos further emphasises this point and this is none more clear than on my personal favourite track, "Spring". "Spring" is a beautiful piece of guitar music and in many ways is a departure from the rest of this record; if you are reading this and are put off by me using the phrase "ambient sound design" at least give this song a listen because you won't regret it.
Naturally "[Ø]" is not a perfect album, despite how much I really like it. I felt that the tracks "This Is How The World Ends" and "That Open Road" weren't as strong as the others and I think that putting these two next to each other slows some of the momentum created by the earlier tracks. Thankfully my attention was fully restored with "Spring" but, for me, there is an undeniable lull in the middle of this record. This wouldn't be so much of an issue if tracks like "Lapse" hadn't set the bar so damn high but, as it is, I wanted all 8 tracks to be of the same standard, maybe I'm just being greedy!
My closing remarks on [STØY] are that I was wholly impressed by the music that was put before me. This record is superb from both a technical and musical standpoint and, considering it is the work of one man, it is very impressive. "[Ø]" can be listened to and purchased from the link below and, as always, I'll include my Facebook and Twitter so you can keep abreast of my other articles and reviews.