james blackshaw all is falling collected reviews as of 8/26/10
Uncut magazine / Pennyblackmusic.com / middleboop blog / http://www.theskinny.co.uk / Was Ist Das? http://www.wasistdas.co.uk/Allisfalling.htm / Spin Magazine / Thelineofbestfit /Pitchfork / The Music Fix / The Wire / MusicOMH / http://www.list.co.uk / http://www.americana-uk.com /http://drownedinsound.com /www.groovemine.com/ The Observer UK / http://www.popmatters.com / www.bowlegs.co.uk
James Blackshaw: "All Is Falling"
In some circles, it’ll be construed as heretical behaviour: James Blackshaw
not touching an acoustic guitar for the duration of an entire album,
favouring instead a 12-string electric. For someone who’s been proclaimed,
not infrequently here, as some kind of saviour of folk guitar or whatever,
it’s something of a shock.
Truth be told, though, Blackshaw’s latest album hardly measures up as a rock
record. Instead, “All Is Falling” continues on the trajectory established by
Blackshaw’s last two albums, “Litany Of Echoes” and “The Glass Bead Game”.
Here, again, the virtuoso solo pieces that earmarked Blackshaw as a British
relative of the New American Primitive movement are more or less subsumed
into formal compositions, where Blackshaw’s guitar takes equal space as the
violins and cellos. Still, though, it feels very much like a logical
progression from his earliest records like “Sunshrine”: the instrumentation
may vary and become richer, but the melodic quirks, the balance between
sacred minimalism and romantic expressiveness, remain constant.
“All Is Falling” is ostensibly one long piece, divided into eight tracks.
“Part One” finds Blackshaw sketching out the themes on overlapping Reichian
pianos, before “Part Two” establishes the major thrust of the overall piece;
courtly, delicate electric guitar lines threaded through the sort of string
arrangements that were showcased at the ensemble show at the Vortex last
year. “Cross” from “The Glass Bead Game” is a useful reference point, as
perhaps are “Actaeon’s Fall” from the last Six Organs Of Admittance album,
“Luminous Night”, and some of Robbie Basho’s “Venus In Cancer”.
It’s around “Part Four” and “Part Five”, however, that Blackshaw really
starts flying. I sometimes wonder whether he can be a little self-conscious
about his own soloing skills, and consequently organises his music in an
increasingly self-effacing and controlled way. But when he lets go, as here,
it’s quite wonderful. It seems churlish to criticise an album as crafted and
satisfying as “All Is Falling”, but I do hope that at some point in what
will undoubtedly be an exploratory future, Blackshaw returns to a solo, at
least partially improvising model.
The pleasures of “All Is Formal”, of course, are more formal. But that’s not
to say it’s unrelentingly prettified: by the end of “Part Seven” – another
expansive exercise in Glass/Reich-style systems – the violins are wailing
like sirens. And the closing “Part Eight” is a distinct departure: a lunar
drone piece of shaped guitar feedback, which codifies the devotional
intensity of Blackshaw’s music in a new form.
James Blackshaw: All Is Falling
Reviewed By: Jamie Rowland
Label: Young God Records
'All is Falling' is guitarist/pianist James Blackshaw’s 9th studio album,
and his second on Michael Gira’s Young God Records after last year’s 'The
Glass Bead Game'.
On this new album, Blackshaw moves away from his more usual acoustic
twelve-string and picks up its electric counterpart. While there are of
course many similarities between the compositions on 'The Glass Bead Game'
and this new album, on 'All is Falling' Blackshaw expands his sound to
create genuinely breathtaking orchestral pieces.
The album is split across eight parts, building as it goes in cinematic
movements, until it finally reaches its peak in part 7, then slowly brings
you back down to earth through it’s eighth and final track.
This is mood music as its best; instrumental pieces but by no means
background music – 'All is Falling' demands your attention, and undoubtedly
will grab it tightly. Buy this record, stick it on your hi-fi, crank up the
volume, close your eyes and let Blackshaw’s amazingly beautiful pieces work
FRIDAY, 16 JULY 2010
James Blackshaw - 'All Is Falling' (Young God)
You can be forgiven if the name of James Blackshaw has been undetected your
musical radar. He is undoubtedly one of those artists who wait for you to
come to him rather than the other way round which only adds to the essence
and talent of this young man.
Be aware, James Blackshaw is not going to write and perform songs that will
make your pulse quicken, nor will they be ones that you will race to your
friends about. To me, the music of Blackshaw is something that I like to
keep to myself, a secret sanctuary of pure music that cleanses the palette
of the myriad and mish-mash of the zeitgeist we have today.
The first track on his new album, ‘All Is Falling’, greets you in with a
wonderful sweeping wave of layered piano sounds. This acts as an almost
enchanted greeting to his 8th studio album and you can’t help but
immediately ascertain that this track would sound excellent at the start of
an independent movie or documentary. This is a trend that is continued with
each and every track on the album.
In the second track, ‘Part 2, James gets to flex his foremost talent in his
repertoire, his penchant for the 12-stringed acoustic guitar. However, this
is a somewhat subdued introduction which would be more apt for a noble court
in Tudor times. However, the song segues very nicely in a very interesting
outro that is embellished by a wonderful string section and would conjures
up an image of the film ‘Donnie Darko’ in your minds eye.
In ‘Part 3’, the tempo and rhythm shift somewhat to an Eastern influence.
You could imagine this music being set to some epic romance story. Even at
this early stage in the album, you get the feeling that James Blackshaw is
not simply offering a random assortment of music, but is trying to
manufacture a soundtrack for your life and you can tell that this is a task
that he relishes.
In ‘Part 4’ and ‘Part 5’, you are treated to some more excellent chord
progressions and displays of musical mastery however, as polished and
attractive as the production of this album is, you cannot help but feel that
the introduction of some lyrical content into these songs would give James
Blackshaw that extra edge in his craft. However, as aforementioned, this is
something that he does not want to achieve. This is an artist that is happy
to be playing in the background of some cosmopolitan coffee shop rather than
in the world’s most elaborate halls.
The closest thing you get to words in this album is a beat count in that his
‘sung’ fore mostly by a female vocalist and this is echoed by a male
counterpart. This is one of the best tracks on the album, everything just
slots together nicely and works well and this continues into the next track.
By far the most interesting song on the album is the last one. You are
greeted by something electric, much departed from the acoustic state of its
predecessors. The music acts like a tide coming in, almost heralding the end
of the album. You cannot help but make comparison’s to start of the Pink
Floyd album ‘Meddle’ and this is more than welcomed by the listener and
provides a fitting end to a veritable feast.
James Blackshaw is very much a niche artist, however, if you are satisfied
with intelligent and thoughtful music as I am, he should not be a stranger
to you any longer.
Words: Barclay Quarton
James Blackshaw – All Is Falling
Posted by Martin Skivington, Wed 28 Jul 2010
Drawing influences from classical, Indian and minimalist music amongst
others, All Is Falling sees virtuosic guitar player-composer James Blackshaw
delve further into the realm of hypnotic, quasi-spiritual compositions that
his last eight studio releases have explored and chartered very well. Part
One sets the album's mystical tone, as mesmerising piano riffs orbit over a
constant bass ostinato.
This is followed by Part Two – a stoic, desert raga, fused with strings.
Elsewhere, Blackshaw's use of a twanging electric guitar in place of his
usual acoustic 12-string, lends the album a darker feel than previous
outings. The paced fretwork of Parts Four and Five, and subdued metallic
drones of Part Eight, illustrate this newfound aesthetic sublimely. Although
Blackshaw is primarily a guitarist, this is not simply a 'guitar record' –
it's as much indebted to the devotional jazz of Alice Coltrane as to fellow
stringsmiths like Kaki King or John Fahey. Blissful listening. [Martin
Was Ist Das?
James Blackshaw, 'All Is Falling' (Young God)
A breathtaking maelstrom of string-swept virtuosity.
BY CHRISTOPHER R. WEINGARTEN 08.09.10 4:39 PM
For his ninth LP of pastoral plucking, British guitarist James Blackshaw
graduates from gifted fingerpicker to masterful composer, combining John
Fahey's tender arpeggios and Terry Riley's cycling rhythms. Presented as a
45-minute suite, All Is Falling sweeps his electric 12-string into a tangle
of keening cellos, dive-bombing violins, pinprick glockenspiels, and
clacking percussion. It's essentially a chattering crescendo of melody and
tension, with piano-based snowdrifts giving way to Morricone epics that
ultimately unfold into a harrowing, nail-biting sonic swarm.
James Blackshaw – All Is Falling
by Scott McMillan <http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/author/mapsadaisical/>
on 09. Aug, 2010 in Record Reviews
By the time of The Cloud Of Unknowing, it seemed that James Blackshaw was
such a proficient twelve string acoustic guitar player that he may even have
been a little bored of people like me telling him so. Being compared to the
likes of John Fahey, Robbie Basho and Leo Kottke would probably be enough
for most (if someone even used my name in the same sentence as any one of
those three, I’d be carving the sentence on my own tombstone and then
smashing myself repeatedly on the head with it), but not for him. His
subsequent releases have shown him deliberately straining against such
categorisation; opening The Litany Of Echoes on piano (gasp! piano!) seemed
like a bold statement at the time, but it was just part of Blackshaw’s
ongoing quest for something bigger – something more complex, even, but not
complex in the same way as that earlier work.
From that moment on, it has felt less about the continued development of his
technical ability on the one instrument, and more about developing his
skills as a composer and arranger of pieces for many more. The subsequent
The Glass Bead Game, his first for Michael Gira’s Young God Records, with
its chamber piece strings and Reich-like use of vocals was often
unrecognisable as folk music at all, and that was more than likely the
point. All Is Falling develops his reputation even further in this
The first thing you notice with the album is that Blackshaw has dispensed
with track titles. These aren’t mere songs any more; these are sections of
an eight part suite. A statement of intent, no doubt. Second, you notice the
instrumentation- once more, he opens on piano, with strings following
closely behind, but more notably there is no acoustic guitar on this at all.
Blackshaw’s guitar of choice, as heard first on ‘Part 2′ is the twelve
string electric. That alone isn’t enough to drag him out of the
aforementioned lineage, for the fast tumbling electric arpeggios are
instantly reminiscent of fellow Fahey acolyte Ben Chasny’s work as Six
Organs Of Admittance, particularly on the relatively stripped back “Part 5″.
But, for the most part, this is on a far grander scale than any of Chasny’s
For on All Is Falling, Blackshaw’s classical ambitions really flower. The
album features, as well as his guitar and piano, arrangements for
glockenspiel, saxophone, flute, percussion, violin, cello and voice. Gone is
any notion of him improvising, there simply wouldn’t be the space for him to
do so. So is this an attempt to follow in the lineage of those composers who
primarily wrote for the electric guitar, like Glenn Branca or Rhys Chatham?
Well, partly, perhaps. There are none of those composers’ ragged edges or
heavy metal thunder; if he borrows from those it is their minimalist
structures and use of repetition, and if he borrows from those he borrows at
least as much from Glass or Reich. All Is Falling feels far more
architectural than his previous work, at times nakedly so: in ‘Part 6′, the
time signatures are actually counted out, numbers and structure merging into
one like a Tom Johnson piece.
However an at least equally prominent influence is likely to be Current 93:
a band Blackshaw is currently a member of, playing with them as part of
their current expanded formation (along with the likes of Andrew WK, Baby
Dee, and a fair smattering of strings) in concert and on their Aleph at
Hallucinatory Mountain and recent Baalstorm, Sing Omega LPs, and a band that
cuts across rock, electronic, classical and folk traditions, unifying them
as part of David Tibet’s turbulent musical vision. The emotional swell which
propels the stunning ‘Part 7′ could easily support one of Tibet’s
apocalyptic nursery rhymes, with its churning guitars and weeping strings.
The air raid siren impressions at the end give it a nightmarish finale of
which Tibet would no doubt approve, before these bleed into the pulsing
drones of ‘Part 8′.
For a long time now, it has been obvious that Blackshaw’s musical interests
stretch far beyond the guitar. Successfully combining these interests to
create the impressive All Is Falling may well be his greatest success of
all. Well, that and the fact that the likes of me will now have to refer to
him as a composer, not merely as a guitarist.
James Blackshaw isn't even 30 years old yet, but he's built himself, through
a combination of otherworldly instrumental skill on the guitar and a highly
developed sensibility for modern composition, into a renowned figure in the
space between folk, classical music, minimalism, and experimentalism. It's
tempting to think of him as a guitarist, mostly because he has such amazing
command of that instrument, but he really is more than that. It's not quite
as simple as saying he's also a pianist, though, because while he plays that
instrument I tend not to think of him as a pianist so much as a composer who
plays piano to achieve his goals.
It sets up a weird dichotomy in me when I listen to his music. I like it
all, but I find I really prefer him when the acoustic guitar is in the lead.
I think it boils down to this: When he builds around his guitar, it feels
like I'm listening to his thoughts, the little bits of information and
images floating around in his brain that he might not be able to set words
to or otherwise organize. When the compositions are centered on the piano, I
feel like I'm listening to his ideas, which is different. They are, it must
be said, good ideas, and Blackshaw is getting better at realizing them--
last year's The Glass Bead Game used the piano to build towering drones that
sometimes did little more than drone, but on All Is Falling, Blackshaw seems
more in control and more fleet on the keys.
This much is very clear from the very first moments of the record, where
Blackshaw tumbles in on the piano with a simple, repeated phrase that's
joined by others that interlock with and embellish it. It progresses into a
churning, dramatic sequence topped by little cascades that move in and out
like weather systems-- it's compact and perhaps the sharpest thing he's done
on the piano. When we finally hear him on the guitar on "Part 2", it's not
his characteristic acoustic 12-string, but rather a clean-toned, six-string
electric. For a time, he rather purposefully avoids density and the type of
shifting movement he's known for, letting a couple of strings feel their way
around what he's doing. It's only on the subsequent piece that he takes off
and starts in on those wild runs and slowly morphing progressions. The whole
thing flows together and culminates in the 12-minute "Part 7", which opens
with a guitar part that could very well be a rock riff until it persists in
repeating over and over, almost like a loop. The strings dance over the top
of it, and the way they harmonize with it makes it feel as though the static
part is changing with them.
Eventually, the guitar lets go, percussion comes in, and the piece becomes
something far more urgent and even sinister. It's a surprising and powerful
change-up, and one that might make for an easy entry point for rock fans
looking to explore Blackshaw's work. It's also a moment that marks a
transition between the phase where Blackshaw began exploring other timbres
as a way of broadening his sound and a new phase where all these other tools
he's given himself really seem close to achieving that same kind of
stream-of-consciousness effect his guitar playing has.
— Joe Tangari, August 13, 2010
The Music Fix
All Is Falling17-08-2010 06:00 | Freddy Palmer | My Other Content |
James Blackshaw is a pretty nifty 12-string guitarist, his previous album
The Glass Bead Game opening with a warm, intricate and almost Spring-like
acoustic workout. It's interesting here then that 'Part 1' of his new album
All Is Falling shows the man tinkling the ivories, showing him an equally
proficient piano player and demonstrating a more mournful and thoughtful
approach to his music.
In the past few years or so Blackshaw has collaborated with renowned
odd-ball and Current 93 leader David Tibet, and while the man hasn't driven
to create some doom-spouting folk, it has reintroduced him to the electric
guitar. 'Part 2' is the first of the tracks to feature this, and you can
hear the warmth of his playing contrasting with the wintery strings played
by Charlotte Glasson and Fran Bury. While there may not be many instruments
at work, there is definitely something heart-wrenchingly cinematic about the
'Part 4' sees glockenspiel added to the mix, and almost childlike abandon
floods through his guitar playing as a result. His guitar playing feels as
though he is truly a master of his art, and someone in love with it too.
When his and Fran's voices count along in 'Part 6', there is a soothing and
innocent feeling to it which takes over you. While with some musicians
emotion is sacrificed in lieu of virtuoso playing, here James Blackshaw
shows that it can be shown in a tasteful and infinitely enjoyable fashion.
Blackshaw from Wire 318 August 2010
All Is Falling
Young God CD/DL/LP
James Blackshaw’s acoustic twelve-string guitar playing sounds almost too
easy. Graceful, intricate, yet uncluttered, the sheer gorgeousness of his
fingerpicked melodies can carry you away. To his credit he hasn’t been
content to simply replicate the trick, but the pace of his recent
explorations is pokier than the effortless ascension from 2004 debut Celeste
to the marvelous O True Believers just two years later. His last album The
Glass Bead Game lurched like a car with a bad clutch between fleet playing
and selfconscious evocations of minimalists Philip Glass and Charlemagne
Palestine as well as older European classical composers.
All Is Falling is a suite that integrates his recent ambitions as an
arranger and composer with the virtuosic and decorative elements of his
earlier music. Blackshaw’s piano playing and a trio of string players again
augment his picking, but this time he’s swapped his regular guitar for an
electric 12-string. He introduces it daintily, stepping carefully in waltz
time, facing the string section and then stepping back from it as though it
was a dancing partner. The strings push the music towards fussiness,
depriving him of the immense acoustic resonance that is his usual trump card
and redirecting attention to other parts of his game. It’s a relief when he
cuts loose with a solo passage and finally stomps, just for a moment, on the
He’s still finding his way as an arranger, at times settling for pat
prettiness when something more powerful is required, and he also struggles
to sustain interest for a 45-minute span. The section where he and violinist
Fran Bury recite numbers in time with glockenspiel and tympani seems to be
reaching for a sense of importance that it does not earn. But Blackshaw’s
restlessness finally pays off, especially in the closing section, where he
sets E-bow drones in and out of phase with each other to hypnotic effect. It
doesn’t sound as much like the minimalists he so adores, but in its
engagement with the mind-altering effects of pure sound it gets closer to
their original iconoclastic spirit.
James Blackshaw - All Is Falling
(Young God) UK release date: 23 August 2010
by Daniel Paton
For a while, categorising James Blackshaw did not pose much of a challenge.
An outstanding 12-string guitarist in the lineage of the Takoma school, his
mesmerising circular patterns were reminiscent of Robbie Basho or John
Fahey. These reference points are now proving inadequate as Blackshaw
continues to diversify. On Litany Of Echoes and The Glass Bead Game,
Blackshaw occasionally veered away from the guitar altogether, performing on
the piano in a less proficient but no less haunting style. His collaboration
with the Dutch lute player Josef Van Wissem suggested an interest in baroque
instruments and forms.
With All Is Falling, comfortably his most orchestrated work so far,
Blackshaw adopts an even more structured and compositional approach. His
music is no longer defined by the way in which he develops themes on the
guitar (his supreme technical facility allowing him to layer ideas without
recourse to overdubs), but how he arranges for an ensemble. Eschewing track
titles in favour of numbering the pieces as Parts 1 through to 8, it's
immediately clear that each section is a fragment of a larger work. Although
Blackshaw again begins on piano and, more surprisingly, subsequently
switches to playing an electric guitar for the first time, the music seems
to flow seamlessly, with Blackshaw's characteristic ebb and flow approach to
arrangement superbly demonstrated on a grander scale.
Blackshaw's interest in repetition and layering remains a dominant feature.
Often, looped figures provide an anchor over which Blackshaw superimposes
other phrases and ideas. Some of these work in tandem with the original
line, others provide opposition and tension. This results in intricate webs
that seem carefully mapped and designed. Part 1 begins with a simple piano
line, over which Blackshaw gradually adds more and more elements. The end
result is a coruscating, shimmering work of beauty. Part 4 perhaps betrays
the influence of minimalist composers such as Steve Reich, Philip Glass or
Terry Riley, with its insistent string drones and overlapping rhythms.
The use of an electric 12 string guitar has facilitated some subtle shifts
in Blackshaw's playing style. In Part 2, the pace is slower and the phrasing
more spacious. He no longer seems concerned with dazzling the listener with
a barrage of notes. Briefly, the music is reminiscent of the elegant
simplicity of Low or the Dirty Three. This gentle beginning makes for a
dramatic shift in mood just over a minute from the end, when the pace
suddenly doubles. It's a provocative moment that breaks Blackshaw's hypnotic
sway and offers a timely reminder of his remarkable ability on his main
Although All Is Falling sustains a consistent mood and feeling, the music
becomes noticeably more complex in its latter stages. The shifting time
signatures of Part 6 are counted out by detached, emotionless voices, the
one moment where the sense of mystery in Blackshaw's systems is casually
undermined. The penultimate Part 7 feels like a natural climax - an
intricate chamber piece that brings in percussion and ends with very
contemporary, anguished tumbles and falls from the string section. It's a
peculiar but fascinating combination of grace and danger.
Blackshaw is of course too challenging and unpredictable an artist to
conclude at a natural point of resolution. Instead, All Is Falling ends with
electronically manipulated drones and sounds, in a manner more reminiscent
of Stars Of The Lid or Oneohtrix Point Never than any of the Takoma
guitarists. It's a wonderful curveball with which to end this involving and
intelligent work. It also suggests that Blackshaw has many more tricks left
up his sleeve.
James Blackshaw - All Is Falling
Source: The List (Issue 665)
Date: 18 August 2010
Written by: Nicola Meighan
Virtuoso guitarist's ninth album sees him move to electric twelve-string
He’s banished the acoustic twelve-string! Fear thee not, however. London’s
virtuosic James Blackshaw may have (temporarily) hung up his signature
instrument, but he remains a spellbinding figure throughout his ninth
Exploring the increased technical range of a slimmer-necked electric
twelve-string (nimbler playing; more intricate finger-positions), Blackshaw
further embellishes his typically dramatic mantras with piano, flute and
violins (amongst others). The result is less loose American Primitive (Fahey
/ Basho); more structured contemporary classical (Nyman / Reich). It works
Track titles are also revoked, but no matter: Blackshaw’s expressive melodic
narratives, minimalist cycles and Romantic mantras speak for themselves.
James Blackshaw “All Is Falling” (Young God Records, 2010)
Electric music for the head
Something of a whiz with the acoustic 12 string guitar, James Blackshaw has
been immersing himself in ever denser soundscapes over his past few album
culminating in his last album 'The Glass Bead Game' which received reviews
which while good appeared to be somewhat in awe of the cerebral nature of
For this, his second release on Young God records, Blackshaw plays electric
12-string guitar with no acoustic in sight. Despite being on a label run by
Michael Gira there are no angry guitar squalls or noiseful threshings, the
guitar indeed is but a part of a landscape that includes violin, piano,
glockenspiel, flute, sax, cello and occasional voice.
Divided into eight parts with no titles, the album ebbs and flows, at times
warm with comforting repetition. Lulling the listener into a sense of
relaxation but occasionally harsh and chilling, demanding attention,
At times minimalist in the vein of Steve Reich or John Moran there are
moments that recall Gavin Bryars, The Penguin Café Orchestra (without the
levity) and A Small, Good Thing.
Part 1 features piano and segues into the sparse, parched guitar of Part 2.
Part 3 is a showcase for his guitar skills and is the piece most reminiscent
of his studies of John Fahey. Part 4 continues this but is soon augmented by
the other musicians with the glockenspiel in particular giving the piece an
air of an avante garde 'Tubular Bells'. Part 6 is the fulcrum, the melody
explored in the previous pieces is given an added urgency as Blackshaw and
Fran Bury add disembodied voices, from here on the music is less comforting,
colder. Part 7 is the longest tune here, repeated repetition, guitar and
buzzing violins in a Philip Glass style drive relentlessly as eventually a
percussive beat is added and then taken away. This builds up majestically
but at the end the violins break free from the structure to wail wordlessly,
painfully descending into an abyss.
The work concludes with Part 8 which abandons for the most part the melodic
structure which has so far held the album together. With his guitar feeding
back and at times sounding like the drone of a bagpipe this sounds like the
morning after a fine night, a slow, painful awakening with a throbbing pulse
like a painful headache.
A difficult listen but ultimately quite rewarding.
All Is Falling
Type: Album Release date: 23/08/2010
Artists:James Blackshaw »
Label:Young God Records »
by Sam Lewis
With the tragic passing of Jack Rose last year, virtuoso guitar playing lost
one of its most forthright proponents. Rose carried the flame left by John
Fahey - the sense of the power and importance of early blues and folk - the
‘American primitive’ sound that Fahey and his cohorts perfected so
eloquently. And yet perhaps the ‘new folk’ scene was itself already at a
crossroads – from the peak of its popularity around 2004/05 its main
protagonists have all been carried in different directions. Rose was in the
process of delving even further into the roots of the music he loved,
recording his own versions of ragtime songs from the Twenties, whilst Ben
Chasny (a.k.a. Six Organs of Admittance) had moved into darker and dronier
territory since his most concentrated acoustic records – 2003’s masterful
For Octavio Paz and 2005’s School Of The Flower.
That’s not to place James Blackshaw directly into the same category as his
American compatriots. Blackshaw’s music has always seemed more English
somehow, despite the debt it owes to American forbearers - more
concentrated, more stately. His playing style is hyperactively intense, a
blur of fingers across 12 steel strings that affects the listener as much
through sheer force of will as by thematic subtlety. If Fahey’s music
privileged the simplicity of the primitive, Blackshaw embraces complexity
and cross-purposes, something evidenced by the cultural references embedded
in his records – his last album’s title, borrowed from Herman Hesse’s
mind-bending ‘The Glass Bead Game’, or his participation in a compilation
named after Jorge Borges’s story ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’, for example.
It’s perhaps appropriate then that Blackshaw’s fondness for layering,
recurring themes and repeating patterns has led him away from the rapid
finger-picking of his early work. Indeed, The Glass Bead Game marked a
departure for the soloist, moving the focus away from his own virtuosity
towards a grander, orchestral vision. The addition of strings, piano and
vocals on that album led to Blackshaw’s most mature work to date, a careful
and moving exploration of simple themes. On All Is Falling Blackshaw’s music
continues to progress – for the first time we hear him playing electric
guitar, a move, the press release suggests, influenced by his work with
If his previous, 12 string acoustic records were almost claustrophobic in
their intensity (something aggravated by the epic length of Blackshaw’s
compositions), All Is Falling succeeds in paring back his vision, with only
the last two tracks moving far beyond the five minute mark and the song
themselves only numbered, rather than named. The orchestration here shifts
Blackshaw further towards the territory of Steve Reich with its lilting wind
instruments (on ‘Part 5’) and staccato piano, the whole album consciously
presented as a ‘movement’ rather than a collection of individual tracks.
From the understated power of ‘Part 2’s’ considered riff, to the furious
e-bow feedback of album closer ‘Part 8’ there are powerful and beautiful
moments here; the sonics of a six-string electric adds an intimacy to
Blackshaw’s sound that was perhaps missing before. Still, artists like Reich
and Fahey imbued their music with a sense of playfulness and humour that you
sense is lacking in Blackshaw’s work; as the title might hint, some of the
music here is slightly too po-faced to bear repeated listening.
Nevertheless, you have the real sense of Blackshaw as a musician and
composer in a process of constant evolution, and it’s a fascinating and
melancholy pleasure to hear his journey.
All Is Falling by James Blackshaw
LABEL: Young God Records
There may be no greater reward for the music listener, or tricker ground for
a musician, than to be floating wildly outside every sphere of defined
musical genres. What is to be found in these flux areas is music of visual
power, individual clarity, and the naive charm of indifferent singularity.
All Is Falling, 12-string guitarist and composer James Blackshaw’s 2010
output, is probably one of the more subtle extensions of this idea, and
“It’s obvious that there are influences taken from folk music, contemporary
classical, the independent avant-garde, all pieced together with the careful
ear of a soundtrack composer.”
Different musical styles bleed around Blackshaw’s compositions seamlessly
without ever coloring them to the point of easy identification. It’s obvious
that there are influences taken from folk music, contemporary classical, the
independent avant-garde, all pieced together with the careful ear of a
soundtrack composer. But they all seem to arrive together at an almost
arbitrary starting point. Blackshaw doesn’t come across as having originated
from any of these camps, simply acquiring them as expanding languages along
Blackshaw’s new music rests well with most of his Young God labelmates,
creating powerful work with primarily acoustic folk elements but to
rock-level crescendos, a startling dynamic with relatively simple
ingredients. Its interplay of orchestration recalls Aidan Baker’s
Liminoid/Lifeforms, but much less ambient and more organic, as well as
Balmorhea’s exceptional Constellations, but much darker and on a more
intimate level. The album sounds like a contemporary chamber orchestra:
human, present and engaging on the level of Clint Mansell and Krzysztof
Penderecki. Blackshaw has crafted an album of urgent dirges that build to
After six songs, the ‘build-to-release’ format starts to wear a bit thin
like many post-rock records, but the album is gracefully ushered back to
concrete awareness by the last two tracks, both exceptional and strikingly
different in character from the rest of All is Falling. Blackshaw closes the
record with a taste of electronic minimalism, which contrasts sharply with
the acoustic quality of All Is Falling, but nevertheless seems essential and
James Blackshaw has taken some carefully chosen steps forward in his style
for this release, and it pays off greatly. While many artists are turning to
this more natural style out of exhaustion or desperation, Blackshaw is
developing it as he goes and on his own, blind to conventions and
REVIEWED BY NEIL LEVENS
The Observer UK
James Blackshaw: All Is Falling
The Observer, Sunday 22 August 2010
All Is Falling
Young God Records
James Blackshaw made his name in underground circles as an expansive,
12-string acoustic player, following forebears, such as 60s pioneer John
Fahey, who transmuted the folk singer's prop into a vector for flowing
ragas. Of late, though, Blackshaw has been experimenting with piano; All Is
Falling finds him deploying electric guitar as well. This flowing,
neoclassical piece in eight parts has abandoned the organic finger-picking
feel of his early work, bringing Blackshaw into the more crowded realm of
soundtracks. But he retains his fluency and All Is Falling is an
James Blackshaw: All Is Falling
By Matthew Fiander 24 August 2010
A hypnic jerk is that feeling you get when you’re sleeping—when, just as
you’re drifting off to sleep, you suddenly feel like you’re falling, and
your body jolts you awake. But if, as James Blackshaw insists with the title
of his new album, All Is Falling, then there’s no place to jolt, nothing to
bump up against, nothing to jar you out of that feeling. You’re just stuck
floating in the middle, which is right where Blackshaw loves to put us. His
music is both earth-sturdy and somehow ephemeral, and, on his new record,
that in-between world he creates—equal parts fever dream and controlled
storm—has grown to his subtly biggest sound.
All Is Falling marks Blackshaw’s first foray into electric guitar. Where his
other records have been built on acoustic 12-string guitar or piano, here
Blackshaw tries his hand at the 12-string electric guitar. Along with that,
the incorporation of other stringed instruments, like violins and cellos,
layered on top of horn sections and light percussion, shows Blackshaw’s slow
but insistent move out of John Fahey’s acoustic dramatics and into something
much closer to neo-classical movements.
All this quiet shift goes to show is that Blackshaw’s sound has no limits.
This record is, like his others, comforting in its ability to sound uniquely
his, but also a record that ever so lightly floats into new air spaces.
Where before Blackshaw was happy to whip up a dust storm around us with his
labyrinthine guitar playing, here the layers of instrumentation and voice he
began to play with on last year’s The Glass Bead Game are expanded into
thick fog banks of sound.
Though there are pauses on it, the album is meant to be heard as one piece,
and the movements are labeled as such, from “Part 1” to “Part 8”. Sonically,
it picks up perfectly where The Glass Bead Game left off. That record ended
with “Arc”, an 18-plus-minute piano surge that left a chasm of silence in
its wake. All Is Falling drifts in on that silence to start the record, but
wastes no time surging to life. The first five parts all mesh well together,
and slowly but steadily build to a huge peak. The album starts with ghostly
piano, like that same one from a year ago drifted back in from the silence,
and it is five minutes into the record before we hear Blackshaw play the
electric guitar for the first time.
What’s amazing about this change is how little it departs from his sound.
This is still the organic, pastoral drift we’ve come to expect from him. It
can poke holes in the songs, or simmer quietly along their hot surfaces, or
churn underneath it all. But here, with the electric guitar, Blackshaw
doesn’t rely on effects pedals or distortion or any other filter between him
and the instrument. He just finds a sweet, earthy tone and rides it through
the album. It meshes beautifully with the strings when they wander in, and
as the pieces of All Is Falling move along, a dreamy sway morphs into
something more insistent. Blackshaw’s playing picks up its intensity, notes
cluster up on each other, a slight reverb echoes out. The violins and cello
cut their notes instead of letting them keen.
It all builds, shifting from a sound washing over you to one hitting you
with increasingly intense waves, until we get to “Part 6”, the most
perplexing movement on the record. After crafting this careful musical
world, Blackshaw breaks the dream with voice. Vocalist Fran Bury spends the
movement counting off the beats, just speaking each number “1…2…3…” and so
forth. Meanwhile, Blackshaw’s voice is under hers, speaking out the music’s
measures. The part ends with the music itself fading out while their voices
continue to count.
It’s as jarring a moment as you’re likely to hear in Blackshaw’s music, but
it turns out to be as close to a hypnic jerk as you’re going to get here. It
jolts you back into consciousness for the epic and expansive “Part 7”, the
most impressive piece of All Is Falling. The percussion is at its most
insistent, and the strings swell up and tangle with each other, each
instrument playing out with as much breadth of sound as it can muster, save
one: Blackshaw’s guitar. He spends the movement playing an understated riff
that anchors all the other sounds down. It’s a moment that proves that, as
much of a guitar virtuoso as Blackshaw is, he also knows the value of
restraint. The song fades into “Part 8”, which is all atmospheric feedback
and squalls of sound. It’s a cathartic coda to a record that draws you so
deeply into its world, then decides here to ease you out of it with the same
care. Whether this is a dream world, a real world, or some limbo between
them, Blackshaw closes the gates on it slowly, letting you find your own way
If nothing, All Is Falling shows that James Blackshaw is more than just the
brilliant guitar player we’ve known as: he is also a bracing and highly
skilled composer. You could argue that, played front to back, Blackshaw’s
whole discography is like one massive album, one that grows and morphs as it
goes but never quite loses the original thread. So while All Is Falling is
striking in the way it both evokes deep emotion and the simple joy of
hearing a beautifully human sound, what makes it all the more lasting is
that moment of anticipation at the end when you wonder what the next
movement in Blackshaw’s music will sound like. And until then, we can go
back to this record and realize that that falling feeling is pretty
comforting when the jolt never comes.
When all you need is a 12 string guitar to induce the listener into a heady
trance it is pretty obvious you have a certain talent. 2007’s ‘The Cloud of
Unknowing’ was the pinnacle of James Blackshaw’s guitar based records; it
was also the turning point, with each album since introducing additional
instruments and a more inviting tone. These releases may be less challenging
for the listener, yet the guitarist (and quite clearly pianist) is slowly
creating a series of beautiful, self contained semi classical, folk based
records that are streams of thought, growing and developing in front of your
very ears. ‘All is Falling’ may be his most accessible yet. Most tracks
(titled ‘Part 1’ through to ‘Part 8’) last around the four-minute mark; some
almost a continuation of the previous track in their fast paced delivery,
whilst others stand alone – holding a more reflective outlook. Take the
medieval toned ‘Part 2’ – a spacious guitar picks at its own unhurried pace,
a saddened set of strings follow gently behind; we have heard Blackshaw in
similar places before, but seldom does he take his sweet time so delicately.
‘Part 3’ and ‘Part 4’ tread more familiar ground, the guitars charge with
their entwined tapestry of melody and energy, the climactic moments in the
former may be some of the musician’s finest to date. Along with the guitars
and strings, the piano is again present – most notably in ‘Part 1’, though
it is in the album’s lengthy highlight, ‘Part 7’, where it becomes an
extension of Blackshaw’s guitar, being used to assist the complex tide of
instruments. All of which are seemingly dependent on each other to create a
wave of tension within the twelve minute epic. Blackshaw is clearly an
individual unaffected by what other musicians might be up to. Solely
concerned with getting his constant flow of ideas down on tape means we are
getting an album a year, and, on the evidence here, long may it continue. GW