Puzzle Time is a four-way split curated by Nicholas Langley, owner of United Kingdom label Third Kind Records. Complete with tracks from four different artists (Langley himself included) and an actual puzzle designed by Bristol-based illustrator Takora, the album (in the words of Walt Whitman) truly contains multitudes.
Bary Center’s opening tracks are pensive and forward-moving. Field recordings, fluctuating drones, and hovering synth lines are framed and carried onward by crisp drum machine beats that set the pace for an aimless walk in the middle of an autumn night. When it comes to the complicated simplicity of the tracks and the ethereal fourth-dimensional atmosphere that permeates them, I’m reminded of Boards of Canada.
“I was purposely trying to make something like background music — not full-on ambient but not extreme in a dance or beat driven sense either,” Bary Center says, “I’ve always thought trip hop was kind of cool for that reason, as it can kind of blend into your daily activity or easily become part of any environment. So, I was consciously trying to make something chill, simple, and unobtrusive, yet interesting and oddball enough that the listener would still be at least partly engaged.”
Yorihisa Taura’s contributions consist of an enveloping ambience that is both fuzzy and warm. Synth-noodling eventually fades into passionate guitar-noodling in “Ito”, while his subsequent tracks remain rather subdued in comparison (but nonetheless retain a soaring, explorative quality). The tracks are peaceful in such a way that commands obsessive attention. It is relaxing music that those relaxation app developers wish they had had the foresight to have included in their collections.
“All the tracks I sent were composed in 2017 and under the influence of Fennesz, Oto Hiax, William Basinski and Jim O’Rourke,” Taura says, “I often use reverse reverb and bitcrusher to pursue music…between sound and noise. It is not easy for me to free myself from old-school music, but it is also the biggest theme of my musical life.”
What’s most obvious when Langley’s portion of the split comes to pass is that he approaches his music from a compositional mindset as opposed to noise/randomness/chance — like so many of us tend to do these days. It’s obvious that there is ample thought and care put into each track (this sentiment extends beyond this 4 way split and into the entirety of his prolific discography). Occasionally, I’m reminded of early 2000s post-rock (such as The Album Leaf) when it comes to production quality and the way in which tracks are constructed. More than anything else though, it is masterful soundtrack music — the kind that doesn’t require an actual visual counterpart in order to produce images in the listener’s mind.
“My EP was made entirely on a Yamaha PSR-500,” Langley says, “I wanted to get back to the fun (but limited) process I used in the early 90’s. The music was inspired by dog walks in and near Brighton.”
Chemiefaserwerk’s (owner of France-based label Falt Records) tracks consist of field recordings that constantly evolve and crescendo into anxious noise — all while remaining enveloped in a prevailing static hiss. That being said, the songs are definitely more lo-fi than those of the other contributors. It’s a really interesting way to end the 4 way split, I think — anticlimactic in the most positive way I can express.
I appreciate how everyone truly brought their own perspective to the album. There’s definitely a subtle mood shift between each section — but nothing drastic enough to disrupt the listening experience. In the end, it reminds me of the feeling one gets when sitting at a table with four different people who just had four completely different days. It’s a real slice of four very different musical lives — a portrait of connectedness that this world needs these days more than ever before.