Recording information: Northampton, Mass (2014-2015).
Photographer: Tim Barber.
When Xian Hawkins emerged as Sybarite in the late '90s and early 2000s, the blurring boundaries between electronic music, post-rock, and experimental pop were reflected in his EPs and Nonument, the project's first -- and for a long time, only -- full-length album. Another EP and a 2006 compilation followed, but it would be another decade until new Sybarite music arrived. During that time, Hawkins kept busy with soundtrack and freelance work, as well as the Bell Horses, a collaboration with Jenny Owens Young. Fortunately, the late 2010s were also kind to music that refused easy classification, so Waver the Absolute's arrival was well-timed. On Nonument's follow-up, Hawkins takes a slightly different approach than before, setting his moody melodies to driven rhythms that balance reflective moments and momentum. While Waver's beats are prominent, they're not in-your-face; "Valence" is a bubbly and hypnotic fusion of shoegaze and dance that harks back to a time when Caribou was still called Manitoba, and the like-minded "Daft Shaft" and "Hold the Phone" give more shape to Hawkins' atmospheres. Elsewhere, he channels that ambience into tracks that update Nonument's expressive vignettes, such as the delicately metallic chimes and ripples of "Mosquito Theme" and "Open Secret," a fittingly mysterious-sounding track that feels ancient and futuristic at the same time. Meanwhile, the ever-growing layers of field recordings, and electronic and acoustic elements on the title track, "Look Ahead See Behind," and "Ornamental Hermit" show that Hawkins' flair for absorbing arrangements hasn't faded over the years. While it may be a shade less cohesive than Nonument, Waver the Absolute is a welcome return from an artist whose evocative gifts have been missed. ~ Heather Phares