Mantle – A Sandcastle, A Wave (Independent)

In December 2017, Wellington-based ambient producer Mantle (George Johnston) released his fourth EP A Sandcastle, A Wave and it’s taken me this long to process the quiet brilliance of this latest offering.

Although A Sandcastle, A Wave barely makes the 15 minute mark, it still manages to be expansive and beautifully confronting – the latter quality being what has led to so many deleted Word documents and tossed out pieces of paper.

For the first couple of listens, this five-track recording hit me on a visceral level that was deeply uncomfortable. As an anxiety sufferer, it’s very easy for my head to get cluttered with harsh ruminations. But the long, drawn out spaces in between each note quietened my thoughts, allowing me to fully experience the present before attempting to put Mantle’s music into words.

The very best ambient music softens extraneous surroundings while causing a shift in our perceptions. It is enough to take us out of time and place to wherever we need to be. While Mantle has demonstrated raw talent in this area since his debut EP A Continuous Return, his earlier work felt somewhat weighted by starkness. In contrast, the 5 track A Sandcastle, A Wave feels like a ripple across a pond. Subtle textures are perpetually shifting and altering the soundscape, inviting you to plunge to new depths of understanding and awareness.

Like Mantle’s previous efforts, mindfulness, compassion and mortality are at the heart of A Sandcastle, A Wave; but the heavy themes are lightened by the serendipity of his artistic process. Using a micro-cassette that was highly irregular in what it decided to capture and what it decided to ignore, Mantle merged field samples and his guitar to create the warm tonal motifs running throughout the record. It is his most earthy, cohesive and humane work to date. Naysayers might liken ambient music to watching paint dry, but this is paint drying on a Mark Rothko canvas. The harder you tune in, the more there is to notice, the more you let it wash over you, the more it draws you in to reveal internal complexities.

This is music intended for you to sit, breathe and be with.  It manages to reflect both our internal and external world with a gentle immediacy that is stunning. As the world hums with increasingly nervous energy, the joy that can be found in the likes of A Sandcastle, A Waveis becoming more necessary. I for one, am looking forward to hearing more.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” –Aldous Huxley

A Sandcastle, A Wave is available here.

Kate Powell