In his over 10 years of releasing records, the music of Will Samson has always been underpinned with ambient characteristics and qualities. Though often led by his tender voice, Samson’s work is deeply textural, always offering as much space for instrumental excursions as the lyrical narratives he layers above them. Until now, Will has considered his solely-ambient work more as side-projects, contemplative digressions from his more defined musical path. Having previously released an EP via 12k back in 2016, Samson returns to Taylor Deupree’s experimental label to fully embrace the genre with the release of the Harp Swells LP – his first full-length ambient album.
Conceived and composed in Almada, Portugal, in the makeshift studio space he shares with Casper Clausen of Efterklang, Harp Swells is both meditative and deliberately, consciously light. Where Samson’s previous work has been steered by melancholy – by a desire to heal himself through his music – here Will strives for brightness; an antidote to the frustrations that had swelled within him over the past few years.
Will views his new work as an ‘anti-algorithm’ record. Consisting of six movements, and fundamentally shaped by his use of a UHER 4200, a 1970’s era portable tape recorder that intricately ties the whole album together, Harp Swells is designed to be consumed in one sitting, front to back. While he’s aware that this will could work against him in many ways, for the first time Will is releasing his latest album free of inhibitions and, perhaps most importantly, any expectations.
Carrying that outlook through the entire project, Will made a pledge to himself that any time he began to feel frustrated with the creative process, he would step away from the music to watch the river outside his studio windows, to remind himself that the album should feel as easy and free flowing as the water.
If ideas weren’t flowing, if instruments failed, Will would simply take a break and a breath, always allowing the environment and circumstance to dictate the album’s character and flow. When the noise of the construction work happening below him got too loud, he would record the same melody on rhodes piano instead. When his violinist wasn’t available, he sampled a bamboo flute he found in the studio to create something that resembled a string arrangement. The result is a sprawling, mesmerising body of sound, a richly organic reflection on the world around him and the roots he‘d finally put in place. Inspired by the concept of Indian devotional music, with a focus on the art of healing, Harp Swells glistens with quiet power, wrapping listeners within its illusory flow as it gently pours forwards. It’s also a reaction to a shifting world, and an ode to the inner strength required to keep moving forwards as the walls of the real world continually feel like they’re closing in.
From the ghostly fascination of the exquisite seven-minute opening track ‘Beatrijs’ Theremin’, through the tantalising three minutes of ‘And Yet’ (featuring the vocals of Bell Orchestre’s Michael Feuerstack and Irish performance artist Maia Nunes), which opens with layered hymn-like vocal samples before they’re slowly joined by beautiful strings which adorn the voices with a palpable sense of wonder, this is an album of both enchantment and transience. Pulled together from all manner of inspired instruments and ideas, it offers a gorgeously glowing flow for the listeners to climb inside; a truly alluring escape from the world.
In truly allowing all the superfluous noise to dissipate, on Harp Swells Will Samson has crafted perhaps the most absorbing work of his career, one which never allowed itself to be obstructed or curtailed by the many barriers it faced from the outset. Free from conjecture and supposition, it’s a stirring document of what it means to truly let go.
Written by Tom Johnson