Will Gardner - Remains (Album Review)

"Destruction is a form of creation" is a quote from Graham Green popularised by the movie Donnie Darko. It is a quote with a truth that is hard to argue with. When you peel back the layers of something, something new emerges. Excuse the scatterbrained introduction to this review, but I've been musing on this ontological thought after listening to Remains by Will Gardner, an album of sagacious abstract compositions released on the Castles In Space label.  

Gardner is a composer and producer from London whose work balances electronic and acoustic instrumentation with esoteric neoclassical arrangements and conceptual weight. Remains, his debut album, deals with the compelling subject matter of how Alzheimer's disease affected the artist's father. It's bravely personal, and a sense of sincerity runs throughout the nine tracks. Gardner based the music of Remains on texts written by Gardner's father. However, he removed the words once the music was composed around them, leaving an intentional absence of the explicit in favour of something more vague and magical. 

If one doesn't read the mission statement for the album, it's nigh impossible to pick up on the concept, but such is conceptual art, a multi-faceted experience elevated beyond the limitations of unimodal practice. 

The album opener, "Incoherent Light", is an establishing instrumental piece. It plays out like a machine cranking into action, acquainting the listener with the rules of the musical world in store. While music by nature is more perceptual and experiential than tangible, there's a sense of physicality to Gardner's work in the way it wrestles with your ear and then soothes it. 

The interludials "Jamais Vu" and "Jamais Vu (Reprise)" see keys reverberating to the heavens, while "Blossoms" is a surprisingly accessible assemblage of acoustic piano, autoharp and guitar by Thom Andrewes, and vocalises from Kate Huggett. It's no surprise that this track was the first single from the album. "The Urge To Leave" is the first to feature words, though they are distorted with effects beyond recognition. Instead, only their aching essence is apparent, furthering the theme of disintegration.


Elsewhere, "Levodopa" features moments of disharmony, bringing an appropriate element of horror to this investigation of a life-altering disorder like Alzheimer's. It features sinisterly effected spoken word from contributors Thom Andrewes, Catherine Carter, Maz O'Connor, and Miriam Sherwood. "Late Stage" is covered in hypnotic static, and the subtle melody lies buried under waves of gentle sounds. The blissful closing title track is an all-encompassing environment of godly synths, traipsing percussion and dreamy piano melodies representational of the beauty of unknowing.  

Remains by Will Gardner is an absorbing and intellectually stimulating exercise in conceptual music, yet it also has moments of unbridled sublimity.