Ian William Craig
Red Sun Through Smoke


4.5
superb

Review

by Mathias CONTRIBUTOR (41 Reviews)
April 1st, 2020 | 19 replies


Release Date: 03/20/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: An almost perfectly-timed soundtrack inspired by grief, love, and isolation.

What a sick twist of fate that Red Sun Through Smoke was released at this time of forced isolation due to our current public health crisis. Six months to two years from now there will be an onslaught of artists releasing albums inspired by the current shut down of the world due to COVID-19, each one claiming to have stretched their own artistic abilities to create a magnum opus. Ian William Craig had the pleasure (a word used lightly) to get ahead of this curve. His newest album was recorded in two weeks in which Ian William Craig was trapped in a small house with his parents in a small town in British Columbia, watching out of his window as forest fires were surrounding them. Craig had originally gone to record at his grandfather’s, but soon after Craig arrived, his grandfather fell ill, was diagnosed with dementia, moved to a care clinic, and then died due to the fires, as his lungs filled with smoke. Somehow in the midst of this, Craig met a partner, fell in love, and then that partner promptly moved to Paris, leaving them to maintain a long distance relationship. What sounds like the plot for an Oscar bait movie was instead the motivation for a masterpiece, as Craig used the crushing combination of isolation, environmental devastation, grief over the fragile human existence, and a yearning for love to create an entirely unique and engaging ambient soundscape.

Pared back to keys (his grandfather's piano), Craig’s classically trained vocals, a shortwave radio, and an assortment of modified tape decks, the album undoubtedly bares Craig’s soul in an incredibly raw and vulnerable state. Craig largely relies on looped tracks that build upon each other, but rarely rising above a whisper. A large inspiration for the album is the ham radio that Craig’s grandfather owned, that he would tinker with and admire as a child all the way through his adulthood. Even with this lo-fi, low resource set up, many tracks take on different forms, from the fully a capella harmonized opener “Random”, to the vocaless piano suite “Mountains Astray”, to the most clearly ambient track “Last of the Lantern Oil”, which paints a picture of the smoke that was all-enveloping at the time of the creation and recording of the song itself. Ingenuity is the clear winner in Red Sun Through Smoke. Each song seems to create its own oblivion, only then to fade and die into that oblivion it created. Stark emotional responses were being created by Craig, but he had nowhere to go with them, both physically and mentally: a stark foreshadow of our present pandemic.

There is also much beauty to be found on Red Sun Through Smoke. There are a number of comparatively simple piano ballads, although each with stretches of atmosphere that ensure that they fit into the sonic theme of the album. “Weight” opens with a simple piano line and gorgeous, vulnerable vocal melody that turns into a haunting chorus that becomes smothered with effects, before dying with what seems like a resolve. Knowing his circumstances, as well as our own, make his personal metaphors a little more relatable: “taking earth inside your belly just to feel the weight.” Many tracks combine these two aesthetics, those of loose experimentation and balladry, and create whirring and uneasy backgrounds to Craig’s soaring beautiful vocal melodies. The juxtaposition between the simpleness of these melodies with the details of the background sound are the most clear indicators of Craig’s mix of emotions, as he grapples with loss and an inability to understand the random misfortune of his experiences while also feeling and yearning for love. Each song is profoundly moving on its own and comes together perfectly as a soundtrack for grief and confusion, as well as for what comes after.




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Comments:Add a Comment 
dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
April 1st 2020


1358 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Another quarantine review this time talking about quarantine itself. What an odd coincidence that this was released at the time it was. I had been wanting to branch out my musical tastes this year and expected metal to be the route I went, but man having I been digging some ambient stuff recently.

Weight: https://soundcloud.com/fatcatrecords/ian-william-craig-weight

Digging: Ismay - Songs of Sonoma Mountain

Dewinged
Contributing Reviewer
April 1st 2020


20278 Comments


It's incredible how some people are able to create during the hardest times of their lives. I have always respected that.

I can only switch the ps4 and game away

Digging: The Gathering - if_then_else

anatelier
April 1st 2020


3524 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Great review, already loved this album but feel I will appreciate it more now that I know some backstory

Digging: Pottery - Welcome to Bobby's Motel

dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
April 1st 2020


1358 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Feel that Dewi. I've tried to write in the past couple of weeks, but have barely been able to do the bare minimum of my classes and work. I also think you should check this, it seems up your alley for sure.

Thanks anatelier! I feel that, I loved it and didn't know about the backstory until I started reviewing

Observer
Staff Reviewer
April 1st 2020


8082 Comments


Absolutely love Centres and was not aware of this so thanks for the review.

Digging: Big Big Train - English Electric: Full Power

DoofDoof
April 1st 2020


8369 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Need to read this one, shall return, great album

dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
April 1st 2020


1358 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This is actually the first of his that I've checked out - Planning on delving into his discography here soon

Observer
Staff Reviewer
April 1st 2020


8082 Comments


Centres is a different beast, as I can tell from listening to this. Its more thick-sounding overall. Pretty haunting and Tim Hecker-esque in its layers. Contain, first track, is one of my fav songs of the last decade.

TheBarber
April 1st 2020


3940 Comments


Thank you for this rev. Been feeling very isolated on my end and this is the kind of music I'm in need for right now. Your words helped me understand why better. Cheers

dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
April 2nd 2020


1358 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Feel the same way Barber - Been diving into ambient/drone like never before. Fits the atmosphere I suppose

dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
April 3rd 2020


1358 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Gonna give this a little bump cause I think the album deserves it

anatelier
April 3rd 2020


3524 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

‘Weight’ is devastating

JS19
April 3rd 2020


7651 Comments


I am so excited to listen to this - his last was almost perfect

Digging: Rafael Anton Irisarri - Peripeteia

Sunnyvale
April 3rd 2020


1533 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I'm far from an expert on this style of music, but this really nice upon first listen

dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
April 3rd 2020


1358 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I'm not going to pretend I know much about the style either, it's pretty new for me. But those were my thoughts exactly and ti's gotten me to branch out a little bit more into the genre

neekafat
Contributing Reviewer
April 3rd 2020


19546 Comments


hmmm... wonder what I'd think of this

Cygnatti
April 3rd 2020


33282 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

loved it on first listen but i dig all his stuff so idk

helperoni
July 5th 2020


110 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

nice review, i loved centres so i’ll check this out

Digging: Nailah Hunter - Spells

anatelier
July 5th 2020


3524 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Weight still one of my SOTY



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