The music of The Balustrade Ensemble sounds as if it's perpetually suspended aloft by the faintest of breezes, its half-remembered melodies shimmering across a dusty room and refracted through the sheerest panes of glass. Beatless, wordless, fragile and ethereal, it sounds like The Cocteau Twins underwater, or Boards of Canada played on archaic instruments.
Compared to its predecessor, Capsules, released on Dynamophone back in 2007, Renewed Brilliance is even more vague, hazy and elusive. It's as if the already degraded radiance of The Balustrade Ensemble's music has undergone another round of aging, deepening its lustre and accentuating its fragility. In that regard, I wasn't as immediately drawn to this release. However, with time, it has proven just as beguiling.
Its most melodic and superficially vibrant pieces – opener 'Bathyal Reel', 'Show Us To The Sky' and 'Aerial Verandis' – feel like a clear continuation from Capsules. Grant Miller's guitar tones ping and shimmer, cushioned by wavering beds of organ laid down by Liam Singer, or the distant tape-looped voice of Wendy Allen. At the more abstract end of the spectrum, sound manipulator Scott Solter has transformed the original instruments beyond recognition, rendering 'The Lowing Herd Wind' as celestial exhalation, its tonal partner 'Summerhill' all aquatic atmosphere. Elsewhere, the eerie rustlings of 'The Arch Scope Cleave' are reminiscent of the wonderful Fennesz, while the closing tracks 'Processionary' and 'Goodbye Leona Dare' leave the strongest impression, the music's tender vulnerability teased into memorable melodic shapes.
The lingering feeling is that it's often the most subtle and inexplicable musical gestures that have the most lasting impact. Even though Renewed Brilliance insinuates itself delicately, as most ambient music does, like coloured light shone through water, its mood resonates deeply. While it's playing, little seems to be happening. Once it's over, its absence aches.
Renewed Brilliance is released by Serein on 27th November.