1000 Albums Project


Exsolve, by Jo Quail
Suggested by Luke Kay

I have a fetish for the oddness of scale.

“Fetish” might be too strong a word, although it makes for the best opening line. It’s more a fixation, an irrational obsession with things I deem that are smaller or larger than they should be. It’s in no way a sexual thing, although it seems I’m choosing my words in the most optimal configuration to make it appear so.

Let me give you an example: cooling towers make me smile. It’s weird, I know. Uncontrollable, Pavolvian. I see a cooling tower or cluster, pepper-potting against a cloudless sky, fringed by tiny buildings or tinseled by pylon wires, and my face breaks into a grin.

Another example is facial size. I’m fascinated by people with small heads and big faces, or the opposite small faces and big heads. I can’t explain my delight at this, just as much as I can’t help but point out such variance as I see it (as I know one reader here can attest).

I think it’s the contrast that gets me. I love it when something feels irrationally large or immeasurably small, as it overpowers the conventional senses and becomes something more exciting.

Exsolve, by the cellist and composer Jo Quail, brings this crisis of scale to me in a very direct and absorbing fashion. And, like those pepper pot cooling towers, this album raises an unexpected smile.

Each of the five tracks on this fifty-minute album (or four if you discount the doubling of Mandrel Cantus) starts with the tiniest of sounds. As the track progresses, each track gets bigger, bolder, bringing more sauce to the table with each passing minute. It’s mesmeric in places, and haunting in others. The first track, may favourite Forge, has a deep sense of foreboding to it, and ominous feel, as though there are longships on the horizon, or a sharkfin nearing the shallower waters.

As each song makes itself large on its canvas, we’re treated to a feast of style and sound. The tracks reward patience, and seem organic in their development. It’s a tailored soundscape, with invisible seams at the cuffs and collar. It brings enough change to avoid being boring, as some of the more navel-gazing offerings in this project have done. I’d suggest there is one misstep here, the second track Of Two Forms, which never gets past its initial premise, stuck in its cocoon with undeveloped wings.

There are aspects of Exsolve which turn me off, but overall I took a great deal from this album. Each track has humble beginnings, but through the application of pressure and time they swell and expand, and break from their delicate and innocent borders. They start as fairground goldfish, swimming in their tiny bags, until they decant and begin taking up all available space. From goldfish they become moss, seeping from the cracks and tearing down the boundary edges. They become swollen, and overpowering, raising their intensity in exponential increments.

I give Exsolve a solid 7/10, which would have been more if it weren’t for the meandering second track. It’s a succession of swelling sounds and crafted, layered composition. It scales beyond logic, replacing quietness with strength without the listener noticing. Like the TARDIS, this album is bigger on the inside.

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