JG Thirlwell & Simon Steensland – Oscillospira (CD Ipecac Recordings)

If ‘Catholic Deceit’ had been the only track released by experimental veteran JG Thirlwell and maverick Swedish composer Simon Steensland then we would have been able to thank our lucky stars. It is over 11 minutes of swelling strings, punishing percussion and savage synths culminating in one of the most devastating outros in recent times. But this is only the first track on their collaborative album ‘Oscillospira’. There are a further seven tracks and just under an hour of music to listen to.  

Thirlwell has been knocking about, releasing music that sometimes defies categorisation and sometimes wins awards, for over 40 years. His reputation speaks for himself. Steensland is also a purveyor of experimental scores, so this is literally a match made in heaven. After appreciating each other from afar they decided to collaborate after meeting in Stockholm in 2017 at a performance by the Great Learning Orchestra. Steensland liked what Thirlwell had written for the ensemble and wanted to cover it. After he sent that to Thirlwell, JG was unsure what to do with so suggested a collaborative album.  Of course, Steensland agreed and ‘Oscillospira’ is the final result.  

Throughout this 70-minute opus Thirlwell and Steensland create layered soundscapes that have the ability to bring you to the brink of tears while terrifying you. ‘Night Shift’ opens with mournful keys then gets underpinned by melancholic synths. It really creates the feeling of a mournful goodbye, or the passing of a friendship. Then searing guitars and massive drums kick in and everything goes up a notch. The people saying goodbye are now fleeing for their lives, in different directions, whist being chased by who knows what. As the song progresses there are subtle breaks in the tension, so everyone can catch their breath, before it all kicks off again.  

What ‘Oscillospira’ demonstrates is that Thirlwell has not lost any of his charm at creating captivating music that dominates the senses and that Steensland is at the forefront of a new wave of European composers who aren’t afraid to mix it up and try something different. After a first listen you are knocked out by the score of ‘Oscillospira’ but have little idea of the subtle nuances that lie beneath its dark, bubbling surface. After a new more listens, about a dozen, each time you hear something that you didn’t before, but have little idea of the subtle nuances that lie beneath its dark, bubbling surface. This is an incredible rewarding album if you put in the time. Which is probably a metaphor for both Thirlwell and Steensland’s careers to date. NR.

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