The cover art of Crickets Were The Compass depicts beautifully in ink and watercolour a grainy, post-apocalyptic landscape strewn with grim, colourless debris. A solitary dog stands in the foreground, dolefully glancing about; after an unspecified disaster, life has inevitably found a way. As much is reinforced by brief elaborations upon each of the tracks’ titles, such as ‘It Haunts Her’ (“She was scared. The storm outside hammered the walls and lit up the sky. We found solace in sound.”) and ‘Crickets were the Compass and the World Goes ‘Round’ (“Directionless I listened for something to guide me. The crickets called from all directions at once. I stood still.”). Combined with the album’s images and compositions, these brief passages give the impression of survivors or travelers in desolate and unwelcoming places, faced with the numbing challenges of life in the wake of massive and abrupt change.
The music itself contributes to this setting in various layered articulations of thick, distorted drones, live instrumentation and gritty textures. The chief (but by no means sole) source of each of these appears to be the guitar. Alongside producing low-end grimness, it also often takes on a cleaner role, with lonesome, aimless picking delaying into the distance on several of the pieces. Analogue synthesizers and unidentifiable samples provide additional texture. A running evocation, sometimes impersonated and sometimes probably directly sampled, is that of radio, now vacant of living broadcasters and transmitting only the stiff indifference of empty frequencies; the sound of the absence of others. As it crawls along, the record’s style is definitely consistent and strongly focused on representing its themes. Despite this, each piece has something of its own characteristic arrangement. ‘It Haunts Her’ opens the album with a buzzing, slow warble rather resembling a siren – drearily and dutifully continuing to sound out long after the dust has settled. ‘People Keep Asking And I Say You’re Well’ begins with radio-like feedback manipulations, gradually accompanied by a slow, shapeless synth motif and introverted guitar twangs. ‘There Isn’t A Day That Goes By’ stands out particularly, portraying a dance of looped quavering feedback and undulations of slow-attack lead noodles. The whole thing rolls about in a murky mid range, but retains a lighter tone than the other pieces. “But there are moments”, reads its subtitle.
Besides periods such as this, the relentless and discomforting gloom of it all makes for quite a dreary listen. Chvad SB manages well to soundtrack a forlorn, speculative narrative of life after disaster that recalls literature such as McCarthy’s The Road. The album’s limited source material and resulting sameness of texture hammers home a sense of entrenched desolation and destitution, unlikely any time soon to change significantly. The world painted has lost much of its colour and, in a slightly disconcerting way, has entered its own kind of relaxed state. There is, of course, a suggestion of allegory. “[Of] coming to terms with fond memories”, as the press release puts it, “& letting them go.”
Review by; Edward Trethowan
Review originally published here: