Centres is a formidable addition to Craig’s catalog.
Ian William Craig may be the only musician releasing a ninth album who you’ve never heard of before. The Canadian tape loop enthusiast and operatically trained vocalist has released record after record of music that somehow manages to capture an ethereal beauty through severe distortion. His compositions combine the digital and analog and harness a unique atmosphere in heavily manipulated vocals, dissonant feedback and sonic decay. Clocking in at over 70 minutes, Centres is a formidable addition to Craig’s catalog and one that sees the musician branch out and employ synthesizers, percussion and relatively restrained vocal manipulations.
Opener “Contain (Astoria Version)” kicks things off in a big way, with the track lingering on for 10 minutes. A gentle blend of droning noise, subtle synth keys and an Auto-Tuned Craig on reverb, the track builds to an incredible climax on the back of Craig’s sincere, emotional lyrics and luscious chord swells. The sheer scope of the track is perfectly matched by Craig’s euphoric cry “I will not contain you at all.” As the song then devolves into deconstructed accordion white noise (meant in the best way possible), the lyric very much feels like a preamble to the rest of the album.
Craig is hardly reserved in his arrangements. To say that all of his songs are built around manipulated vocals and distorted noise is not to say that they are all the same or, indeed, crafted from the same combination of instruments and sounds. “A Single Hope” may be just as much of a slow-burn as “Contain,” but it establishes its impending cathartic climax around an airy loop of church choir vocalizations, bells and the ever-present stuttering clamor. From this ambiguous beginning, Craig launches into truly operatic vocals—with little manipulation to speak of—and backs the whole thing with a slow, tinny beat that isn’t that far from R&B percussion. Across these 13 tracks, Craig uses everything from your typical loop station and synthesizer to accordion (“The Nearness”), organ (“Arrive, Arrive”) and guitar (“Contain (Cedar Version)”). As an instrumentalist, he is by no means limited.
Despite Craig’s penchant for distorted vocals, Centres revels in his unadorned, gloriously angelic voice. “The Nearness” may end in four minutes of tape decay, but it begins with Craig’s painfully solemn, yearning vocals. “Set to Lapse” takes a different approach, allowing the vocals to dissipate the digital cacophony to end on a soothing hymn. In its opening bars, the song sounds strikingly similar to those lingering moments in a Sigur Rós concert when Jónsi continues raking his bow over his guitar and quietly cooing into the mic, the song already ended but the need to bask in its afterglow paramount for both band and audience. “Arrive, Arrive” pairs his slightly reverbed vocal with organ for a short dirge. Putting them all to shame, however, is “Purpose (Is No Country),” a three-minute epic of operatic vocals delivered virtually a capella.
Yet, in the midst of these showcases of Craig’s clarion vocals, “A Circle Without Having to Curve” stands to aggressively remind the listener of just what bewitching industrial dissonance Craig is able to forge. For an album that is predominantly awash in analog distortion, Centres proves its ability time and again to craft euphoric highs bolstered by Craig’s beyond earnest lyrics. The haunting emotions of such melodious moments counterbalance sequences of harsh distortion. That Craig chooses to close the album on a stripped-down acoustic version of his synth opener only highlights his eagerness to deconstruct and experiment.