Photographer: Alexis Fleisig.
It makes sense that Brooklyn-based experimental composer Sarah Lipstate has a background in filmmaking. As Noveller, her processed-guitar landscapes took on the same dusk-colored cinematic landscapes as some of the greater acts making drawn-out and beautifully unsettling instrumental music. With sixth album No Dreams, Lipstate moves into the fullest realization of her sound, expanding her palette of instruments and digging deeper into the strange mixture of soundtrack-like, tension-building dynamics and frigid, glossy strands of guitar tones. Immediately noticeable is the inclusion of sequenced synth patterns and bell-like keyboard tones, both of which meet with washes of icy guitar on the brief album-intro "Fighting Sleep." The piece is short, but works as a preface for the rest of the album by offering glowing fragments of Tangerine Dream-esque electronic pulses amid the rush of guitar menace that made up previous Noveller albums. This intro is followed by the epic "Mannahatta," a patient piece that finds Lipstate's bowed guitar lines oscillating between phases of peacefulness and mania on top of a bed of low, resonant synth tones. The slow-motion unfolding of the piece is evocative of the same fading-campfire-embers quality of Stars of the Lid, with sinewy guitars stretching out into an imaginary twilight sky, structures morphing as the song goes on. Lipstate's career has been varied and wide-reaching, and the various associations she's accumulated all reach their greatest articulation in No Dreams. Apart from her solo work, she's made music with legendary guitar-centric avant-garde composers Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham, as well as spending time touring with indie acts like Cold Cave or Parts & Labor. The odd duality of academic composition and rugged indie-circuit culture meet up on tracks like "Gathering the Elements," which comes on in a static, clinical web of meditative tones, but can't help giving in to its own impulses of noise and squalor by the end. Supernatural muted piano-like sounds add extra spookiness to the horror-movie feel of the aptly named piece "The Fright." This standout track ends up sounding like a nightmarish re-envisioning of Goblin's soundtracks for Dario Argento's classic '70s horror films if German experimentalists like Klaus Schulze or Conrad Schnitzler had been on board as collaborators. All told, No Dreams is the most developed and seemingly most considered work from Noveller to date. Its conflicted and cathartic themes never give themselves fully away, leaving the listener mystified, intrigued, and often on the edge of feeling horrified, but always paradoxically drawn in, waiting for a resolution that never comes. It's an incredible and complex statement on Lipstate's behalf, and one that clearly stands as a challenge to herself and her audience alike. ~ Fred Thomas