GENTLE HEART | REVIEWS
Back from break and we at the Alcohol Seed have a bit of house keeping to do. As 2018’s scheduled releases approach we find ourselves amidst the familiar January lull. We think this is a good opportunity to shine a light on a few late discoveries from 2017 that were overlooked until recently. One of these overlooked albums was Mark Templeton’s Gentle Heart, the final chapter in his heart trilogy that’s now spanned seven years (The Scotch Heart EP from 2011 is especially worth your attention).
Even from the perspective of someone with a broad base for atypical music, there remains nothing typical about Gentle Heart. The album’s 11 songs unfold by way of an idiosyncratic vision and execution, strung together like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces were never meant to fit together. The big picture, however, is achieved in the end, as Templeton smoothes the roughness out of his lilting tape loops, then shrouds them in acoustic embellishments. By now Templeton has learned how to get the most out of these instrumental additions without crowding the elements that lend the artist his unique voice.
It might be degradation that provides an easy pathway for nostalgia, but it’s Templeton’s shrewd steering of his found sound collages that gets him my vote over similar artists — see Jim Kirby (aka The Caretaker). It’s tempting to compare the experience of listening to Gentle Heart to that feeling of finding that gem of a song on the radio, but it’s more like the journey to that point. Turning the dial along the frequency band one’s ears are graced with white noise and snippets from various stations, everything rising and falling in and out of the moment like so many fleeting, microcosmic glimpses into alternate realities. Imagine the best possible combination of sounds you could experience along this frequency surf, and that’s hardly half of what Gentle Heart will do for you.
Like the best sampled / collage work I’ve heard, Templeton genre-bends on a dime. This is heard almost right away on opener “Burning Bush,” whose chaotic rhythms are graced by the slack-keyed sigh of a guitar that might as well have travelled across an ocean from Waikiki. It crops up again on “Range Road,” and from here the album never errs on the side of predictability, consistently keeping the engagement level high with an array of sonic curve balls. One is always left guessing what Templeton has in store around the corner, without ever feeling rushed to get there. This album is a delight. - The Alcohol Seed - January 2018
Mark Templeton crafts tape loop music that’s equal parts ramshackle and lilting on the final chapter of his Heart trilogy. The album shows the power of a well-trimmed piece of tape as stuttering fragments bloom into hypnotic rhythms. Though it’s easy to be mesmerized, Templeton balances it with plenty of disruption.
Loops waver unsteadily or cut out entirely, while a ferric mist of white noise covers most tracks. Yet in spite of the decay, Gentle Heart shines beautifully. ‘Range Road’ sounds like a skipping country record worn down to ambient music, while the impressionistic ‘Cab Lights’ carefully arranges blurry horn fragments. It’s as oddly beautiful as watching damaged silent film footage. - FACT - August 2017
My father’s family was originally Scotch-Irish, an ethnic group of Scots that settled in Ulster, Ireland and later emigrated Westward in droves. This is where my surname comes from. I quite literally have a Scotch Heart; my aortic valves stubbornly reach back before a time when “whiteness” meant something so ubiquitously insidious, before we had names for our aggressions but long after we started mapping and colonizing difference. Reflecting on this exodus that ultimately accounted for my present latitude is an exercise in imagining a time when “having heart” meant preserving one’s own values, hauling them around entrapped in a crest of flesh.
“It was a different time,” but it wasn’t really that different. We know now that people have been moving around for much longer than we had previously thought, trading innovations in geomancy and judgment. Jealousy had already been spotted in traces deep inside our hearts, given names, made disreputable, harnessed as a tool of oppression. Having a Jealous Heart has always meant being covetous of that which you do not have, and it’s a heart that grows as time reveals more and more of what is not ours. Growing older means standing down a longer horizon of unconquered land, and as time eventually corrupts vision, squinting at an asymptote that warps and shrinks regardless of moral vantage.
This is what nostalgia sounds like: a horizon sizzling and melting away, transubstantiating into knots of black plastic smoke; a steel string twanging in between notes of a dozen jumbled lullabies; a flugelhorn or a father’s voice beckoning across a field of soybeans; a heartstring buckling under its accumulated grime. A Jealous Heart weeps and grieves for rewind, but finding beauty in decay requires a Gentle Heart, one that keeps a steady pulse as a lonely child weeps inward, fearing a physics that dares allow for such dispassionate dissolution. A Gentle Heart appreciates a utopian’s sense of benevolent wonder, even as Utopia depreciates under barbaric eyes.
And yet, it’s any heart that’s beaten that resonates still — tuned as it were by pride, envy, and empathy — at this “Gentle Story,” one with no end but its beginnings, forever derailing off into nothingness with just enough push that its folds still smile when time ceases its absurd machinations. Play it again for good measure. - Tiny Mix Tapes - July 2017
Gentle Heart is a blissful closure to Mark Templeton‘s Heart trilogy. The soft and creamy loops are a return to paradise. These loops quickly overflow, close to being out of control but reigned in when things start to become too wild, and they still retain a sense of purpose and underlying intelligence. The loops blend into one another, splattering themselves over the music, at first spilling over into almost tropical phrases with what could be a lilting slice of Hawaii. Aloha!
Loops arrive on wafts of timid air, and the delicate snippets become jumbled up things in a jungle of delightful elements, constructing melodies out of deconstructed parts. Quivering like a bowl of neon jello, the album enjoys a high degree of smooth elegance, which is very hard to achieve (especially so when there’s a lot going on). As they daintily sidestep through these cluttered fields, the music is populated with warm wildflowers of sound.
Sometimes the bending notes stutter in and out, sounding for all the world like bright-but-dissolving major pentatonic licks or the blissfully broken melodies of country music, its notes diluted and softened by the constant presence of a light, background reverb. The music’s like a radio with tuning issues, occasionally lighting upon a clearer signal only for it to fuzz over a couple of seconds later. Electronic echoes, dashes and blips arrive in the foreground while a primary loop sits further back, acting as the stable anchor. It’s not so much experimental as it is extremely playful; its arrangements are so laid-back as to be inclined rather than reclined, and the textures are so soft it can only lean into an ambient-shaped atmosphere. Tiny segments are always being added to the original foundation, so despite the looping nature things are never stuck in a rut. As the pages close, the music continues on…and on…and on, riding through the prairie and off into the sunset. Gentle Heart is a perfect ending to this chapter. - A Closer Listen - June 2017
Preceded by Scotch Heart (2011) and Jealous Heart (2013), Gentle Heart, the concluding chapter in Mark Templeton's Heart trilogy, straddles multiple temporal realms in its coupling of decaying sound fragments with modern-day production techniques. It's a thoroughly contemporary music, on the one hand, music redolent of an era whereby the entire history of recorded music is ripe for plunder and re-presentation; as Gentle Heart's hauntological material plays, one could be forgiven for thinking someone must have granted Templeton access to the last half-century of the CBC's radio archives. It's also heavily tied to the past, its wobbly character making it sound like the kind of material one would hear after rescuing old reel-to-reel or cassette tapes from some damp, long-forgotten box in an attic or basement. While Gentle Heart carves out its own distinct niche within contemporary music practice, it nevertheless suggests kinship with fellow time travelers such as William Basinski, James Leyland Kirby (operating in his The Caretaker mode, specifically), and Philip Jeck.
Throughout the thirty-three-minute album (issued in a limited vinyl run of 300 copies), Templeton's shape-shifters stutter and hiccup; loops lurch, convulse, and tumble over themselves, straying from their paths before righting and re-aligning themselves. Electronic warbles and static drape themselves across heaving rhythm foundations, with an occasional fragment of acoustic piano or electric guitar separating itself from the cloudy mass to draw some momentary connection to recognizable instrument terrain. During “Horizontal Plane,” for example, a muted horn figure slowly emerges from a flickering mass to makes its presence felt, whereas synthetic bleeps and bloops of various alien kinds extricate themselves from the decidedly vocal-less churn of “Voices.”
Allusions to particular song forms occur by way of track title and compositional structure but refracted and distorted so severely that the reference is almost lost. In one of the more direct references, the dusty twang of a steel guitar in the first part of “Gentle Story” aligns the material to country music, while the relaxed splendour of the second part does much the same, even if the inclusion of synthesizer washes loosens the reins, so to speak. Had Templeton decided to add beats of some metronomic kind to the eleven tracks, the album might even begin to suggest an attempt on his part to breathe tentative new life into the glitch-ridden, clicks'n'cuts movements of a few decades ago. Modest in duration it might be, yet Gentle Heart never feels less than substantial. - textura - June 2017
The final part of electro-acoustic musician Mark Templeton’s ‘Heart trilogy’, arriving four years after the previous installment, “Gentle Heart” is a collection of short, wallowing atmospheres made up of slowly looping found sound patterns, distant indecipherable vocal noises, gentle sustained drone notes, tape effects and brief extracts of melodic elements.
It’s very languid and in parts rather muddy-sounding, as though underwater, giving the whole work a very lazy feel. Pieces like “Range Road” exemplify the lethargy- truly chilled-out, with a barely clockable tempo under 70bpm well in line with a sleeping heart rate. “One Last Encore” has a slightly less passive breathing rhythm, while other pieces like “Pond” are tempo-free ambiences.
“Valley” has a more distinct guitar (or guitar-like) melodic pattern at its core, but retriggered and gently twisted. “Voice” brings ramping digital bleeps and bloops to the fore before getting weirdly squelchy as it ends. Album closer “Gentle Story” has two parts, the first a very smooth and pure ambience with a familiar feeling of closure, the second initially a more blippy and bubbly number with a sliding bass tone that’s a less orthodox, but more fitting, way to wrap up.
At only 34 minutes it’s barely more than a mini-album, with most pieces curtailed at the three-minute mark, left static without the opportunity to evolve, but it’s a nicely immersive, sleep-friendly listen- as perhaps acknowledged in the title “Horiztonal Plane” [sic]. - Chain D.L.K. - June 2017