Review Summary: Old Growth is an extremely concise, lucid, and engaging album that uses very little in order to make it happen.
Make no bones about it – Old Growth
is as raw, organic and austere as it gets. On paper, Nathanael’s solo sophomore LP reads as a lone acoustic guitar playing for thirty-six minutes; there’s no instrumental support to help out, no vocals to add that extra layer of depth and variety, and there’s definitely no bells and whistles from the production to inject any kind of artificial flavour into the songwriting. This is Musk Ox and The Night Watch’s Nathanael Larochette in a room with nothing but his wits, his guitar, and the microphone that’s recording it all. What’s shocking is that it took me a couple of listens to fully appreciate and realise that fact. Whether that’s down to my poor lack of observation or not, I just didn’t think about it at first. But then, you should also be made aware the songwriting on Old Growth
is that strong and well thought-out, it’s testament to Larochette’s nous and incredible compositional skill, as well as his ability to make the listener forget about Old Growth
’s (on paper) limited framework. His classical background serves him well – displaying a broad understanding of music theory with these bright soundscapes that inchmeal from one nuance to the next. Adding further praise to the LP’s songwriting is that it all flows seamlessly, sounding reposed and wonted under one umbrella, yet each track emotes very distinctively from the one that came before it.
, as you can imagine coming from the guy involved with Musk Ox’s richly vivid soundscapes, is extremely expressive and lucid with the moods it wants to convey. Larochette’s signature poignancy melded with his ability at making you feel attuned with nature is potent and effective. “Shelter” made me feel like I was standing in a meadow, feeling a warm, late-morning breeze in my face on a cloudless day, with the grass oscillated and fizzing all around me; “Voyage”’s serene disposition had me prone beside a river in the sticks, listening to the calming ambiences; and the record’s darkest incarnation, “Ashes”, felt suited to an area in Elden Ring – the aftermath of a heinous, scorched scene and all you’re left to feel and hear are the dejected lamentations of the track’s guitar telling you the tale. These anecdotes are obviously very personal and subjective, but undoubtedly every listener will form their own personal narratives from these wonderfully crafted songs. The fact Old Growth
has that level of control over the listener is the real achievement here, because at the end of the day, it’s hard to believe so little can offer so much. The guitar work here can be fiddly in spots, but it would be hyperbolic to call it flash, and the tempo remains steadfast and at a sombre pace throughout. So where is the appeal? Well, it’s because the record relies on setting a very specific mood for every track. This kind of writing is like painting a picture with sound and once you uncover the furtive, hypnotic magic behind each piece, you’ll understand why it’s so great.
You need to have some confidence in your own abilities to come out with a record like this. Instrumental albums are one thing, but to wilfully attempt an album this skeletal is a real challenge if it’s to come out good, and I think Nathan has succeeded with flying colours here. The run-time is perfect, the pacing equally so, and each track elicits a very different sonic image that will maintain the listener’s engagement. If you’re a fan of classical or folk music, this is essential listening, but because of Nathan’s background and understanding with European-style-folk music and his love for metal – in the vein of what a lot of black metal bands utilise and gravitate towards – not only will its benign accessibility have broad appeal with mainstream music-goers, this dark-folk voyage will have no problem appealing to the extreme music listeners as well. Old Growth
is elemental in concept, but Larochette’s approach to guitar playing brings the sound of a full band with just 6 strings. This is simply astounding stuff that shouldn’t be missed by anyone.