Believe it or not but there are times when I get lost for words. Yes, I know it is hard to believe that Thomas “Superlative” Mathie can and does get struck dumb but it happens: when I’m heading out for dinner with my wife for that ‘special’ occasion and she walks down stairs in her finery … when I taste the bread I’ve just baked and it is ‘just right’ … or when I hear a piece of music that I know I will listen to again and again until the day I die. When I am faced with moments like these, I am left speechless.
“In between” by Mark Wardale aka Row Boat is one such album. It has taken me at least ten rotations for me to feel confident in writing about it. I have been rendered speechless by the breadth of musical expression on display as well as the depth of quality of this presentation – “In between” is seriously good and I want to get me words right.
I consider Wardale to be a friend and have watched his progression as an artist, from self-release to this release on the mighty Fluttery Records. I wanted to ensure the words I use convey the simple majesty of this album.
“In between” is an exceptional album, one that sits at the more ambient, neo-classical end of the post-rock spectrum. That said, while it sits there it does get pleasantly raucous now and again.
“In between” begins with ‘Meet Me at the Colosseum’ … a nearly nine-minute opus that sets the scene for the remainder of the album. Ambient drones give way to strings and a slow, deliberate piano-driven melody. It is a hauntingly melancholic track that has so much power and yet there is a distinct feeling of restraint, of holding back, that makes the track all the more beautiful.
From there we head to ‘Ever After Memories’ which retains the slow, deliberate feel from the first track but introduces a percussive element, delicious strings and the most delightful of female vocals. The ethereal nature of the vocals juxtaposed with the percussive element (which sounds like a basketball bouncing) makes for interesting listening experience that is further complimented by a piano-driven melody. This sounds on the track come together to create a truly breathtaking wall-of-sound, a sound that it would be very hard not to be moved by.
The electric piano on ‘All of The Lighthouses’ sounds amazing and really compliments Wardale’s overall sound and direction, whilst bringing in a soulful element to proceedings.
‘All of The Lighthouses’ is a builder of a track, gaining momentum through it’s 5 & 1/2 minute duration. The metronome-like percussion adds a sense of urgency, goading the listener on as the track comes towards its climax. With less than 40 secs to go, the percussion drops and the track calms down to fade into nothing. It is masterful expression, one that I heartily enjoyed.
As I did ‘Hollow’ with the field recording of rain adding a certain romantic ambience to the track, an ambience preserved with the most delicate of piano melodies. Subtle guitar is then introduced to work with the piano to enhance the romantic feel of the track. I’m not sure what it is with ambient-orientated musicians and their love of rain, but it does work here.
‘The Dying Art of Romance’ then takes a more upbeat direction with a repeated note played on the piano forming a percussive element before further beats are introduced to back the melody. The repeated note dies away to leave the beats and the space between notes from the melody, this creates moments of silence that are simply irresistible. This track is deeply immersive and very inviting, highlighting Wardale’s strength as a composer and player.
The repeated note does reappear and with the help of manipulated vocal samples builds to a crescendo … drones and outer sounds work together with further percussion to build towards this climax. It is a raucous but very joyful part of the overall track, a track that reverts back to the stripped back melody and moments of silence. ‘The Dying Art of Romance’ is truly stunning and real highlight of this album.
‘Your Hand, My Hand, and the Stars’ – the sixth track – is formed around Wardale‘s now signature drones. He shapes a fluid, moving soundscape around these drones before introducing the melody. The sense of grandeur around the later half of this track is tangible.
The penultimate track – ‘Later That Day’ – features a manipulated field recording as the setting for an expansive soundscape. This soundscape features percussion, synths, bass and a delightful, almost jaunty, melody; and makes an indelible mark on the listener’s heart.
We then round things off with ‘What it is to feel’, a piano-orientated track that grows in stature from a delicate melody to a wall-of-sound, all the while underpinned by the ebb and flow of what sounds like someone breathing. at the 3 and 1/2 minute mark strings appear to bolster the wall and compliment the melody played on the piano. It makes for a rather emotional end to a heartfelt album; one that lives in the conscious long after the album has faded out.
Nothing effectively expresses the power and simple majesty of the tracks contained on “In between”, and yet I have tried. I really do love this album and know it will remain with me for the remainder of my life.
Yes, “In between” is that good. It marks the moment when Mark Wardale aka Row Boat stops sounding like other bands (his earlier work is reminiscent of “Takk…” by Sigur Rós) and starts to sound distinctly like himself. I am glad I have been given to opportunity to witness this moment and commend Fluttery for their foresight in bringing Wardale onto their books. He will be an asset for them, with “In between” he already is.