Noveller – A Pink Sunset For No One (Fire Records)


Noveller is the solo project of Brooklyn-based guitarist and filmmaker Sarah Lipstate.  Lipstate started out playing in bands while at college. It was while she played guitar in an Austin experimental duo One Umbrella (with synth/electronics partner Carlos Villarreal) that she developed her grounding in the ambient cinematic,  ‘chillscapes’ she now currently makes.  Even on her latest album you can hear her heavily processed guitar loops resulted in an icy wash of distant sounds, spare and unsettling by turns. 

With each release, Noveller pushes her envelope just a little bit further.  It’s been a a slow but organic development with her drifting instrumental sound slowly swelling up like quiet waves on a shore, subtle but individually formed.  The last album I heard from her, Land, was all about navigating ‘the drone’ – this epicentre of your soul, this constant hum.  This new work is a natural progression.  Lipstate’s music is built from guitar loops and pedals constructed on drone anchors and layers of delicate distortion.  This is not thrash or grunge but more like meditative spatial orchestrations for a movie that only exists in the imagination. It envelops the listener in a velvet curtain, coloured by the addition of synths and percussion.

You’d think this kind of work could only appeal to bedroom narcissists yet she’s managed to find a way out of the laptop and has grown to fill the kind of rooms Iggy Pop plays.  Still, mellowing out Pop’s fans seems secondary compared to Lipstate’s reasons to create.  The album’s intro track Deep Shelter begins with a low-pitched melody that can only be as simple as four note but it repeats constantly like a nagging rumours as it accumulates iterative details along the way until the story starts to get out of control.  But only for a few minutes as she pulls back on the loops and adds some lullaby pianos.  It feels like she’s taming some imaginary aural dragon.  You can almost see her flying around the tempered beast as if in an Ann McCaffrey novel.

By contrast Rituals gets to the point more quickly, like a song that wants to break out.  The chord structures build quickly and deftly.  There’s a small nod to the music of composer Steve Reich in this one and perhaps a little Ry Cooder, too.   The ambient twang feels like the desert blues of Paris, Texas in places, is only viewed from the lush couch in a luxury jet flying over. On Trials and Trails there’s a mix of clever meandering solos and distorted passages that feel like the reflecting of a heartbreak moment after an argument.  The calm after the storm.  It’s potent with anguish portrayed with a slightly baroque feel – like walking with infinite sadness down the halls of a Byzantine abbey.

Pretentious as that may sound, you can’t help creating these little scenarios in your head when you hear music like this.  Lipstate’s compositions contain the subtlest of musical poetry and is infinitely open to interpretation.  Her variety of genres and sounds are what gives her work such a multitextual feel.  The experimentation she learnt from her time in Rhys Chatham Guitar Army is a natural influence, and you can hear the ghosts of many of the Prog-rock heroes from the mid 70’s appears on songs like The Unveiling and Corridors when Lipstate’s trademark ‘spacy-ness’ morphs into the essence of Emerson, Lake and Palmer swayed by Hitchcock soundtracks.  If Psycho was scored by Hawkes Bay’s Jakob, then it could sound like this.

The title track was clearly made for the Slowdive cannon, perhaps his hints of Richard Thomson here and there.  I love the juxtaposition between the unleashed distortion waves and the reverberant medieval folk chords that hold this tune together.  It’s like a movie of a river as the camera moves from a bubbling brook to raging rapids and back again.

There is no doubt that Ms Sarah is firmly in control of her gear.  I do wonder how a band could reproduce this on stage.  With the magic of computers and many pedals Lipstate has managed to create the sounds she must have stored up in her subconscious.  Just imagine what Mozart could do with an MPC!

This is a beautiful and challenging piece of ambient experimental electronica – with guitars.  It’s now for a decent set of headphones and a good glass of Pinot.  Immersive and indulgent, it’s a rare thing in this world of I-tunes and Spotify.  In fact, I found this very difficult to get through in my world of constant interruptions and deadlines.  I have intentionally procrastinated so that I could listen properly to this album and give full credit.  It was worth it.  Not on the first, the second or even the third listen but eventually, when I’d finally removed all the distractions – there it was.  And it was marvelous.

Tim Gruar

Click here to read The 13th Floor interview with Noveller.