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Album Review: Noveller – Fantastic Planet

2 min read

Nine songs. No lyrics. One main structure for all the tracks: a simple melody drawn by either the electric guitar or the synth above a soundscape made of repeated patterns. Austin-based composer and filmmaker Sarah Lipstate a.k.a. Noveller gave an ambiguous title to her new album, Fantastic Planet, leaving us to wonder if she meant it to be optimistic or ironic. As if to confirm this impression, the album alternates cheerful and melancholic tones; some songs juxtapose bright, naïve melodies with abrupt intrusions of the synths.

Noveller_Fantastic PlanetThe first three tracks, Into The Dunes, No Unholy Mountain, Rubicon all hint at natural elements of our planet. The first one is the new single and well represents the whole work – it starts with ethereal guitar figures on repeated, hypnotic rhythmic phrases and evolves in a threatening way, with an acute and distorted melody above an insistent sequence of deep, almost industrial chords. The second is a gem of pure, evanescent, ambient music. The third one stages a battle between a sinister and discordant synthscape and a placid Oriental twist that reminds me of some Philip Glass’ minimalist works.

The following song, Sisters, has a similar structure but a more 80’s sounding synth and an even sunnier melody. Concrete dreams is as soothing as No unholy mountain while Pulse point, with its evocative synthesized soundscape, could come out of a Vangelis album. The Ascent, at least in its second half, makes me think of St.Vincent synth-dominated eponymous fourth album. After all Sarah Lipstate has toured with St.Vincent, as well as with other renowned artists such as Xiu Xiu, the Jesus Lizard, U.S. Girls, Aidan Baker and Emeralds.  Since her debut in 2009, she has also collaborated with a number of musicians, including live improvised duo performances with Carla Bozulich (Evangelista, The Geraldine Fibbers), David Wm. Sims (the Jesus Lizard, Scratch Acid), Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth) and JG Thirlwell (Foetus, Manorexia). What’s more, she has composed soundtracks for feature films and performed live scores on Radiolab‘s tour. That’s why she seems perfectly comfortable with instrumental songs. The tracks flow one into another and the album is sonically cohesive, offering a mix of experimentalism and listener-friendliness.

According to the press materials, Fantastic Planet was completed in Texas; so maybe it’s Texas sun pictured in its beautiful and essential cover, that depicts Sarah’s face with her hand raised to protect her eyes from the light, half illuminated half in the shade, just like the album itself with its light and dark contrasts.

Fantastic planet is enjoyable although being purely instrumental. But there’s a flaw: sometimes melodies are way too simple.