Minimalism is a difficult concept to get right. Go too minimal, and the music fades in to ephemerality, having all the impact of a whisper lost upon the wind. But there’s always the risk that an artist might put in too many elements to their intended minimal sound, utterly defeating the purpose of such a technique when something more conventional would, perhaps, be more effective. But Fade by Mancunian artist Schoolhouse strikes the right sort of balance, where the minimalism contributes greatly to the impact of the music. Possessed of a remarkable depth, Fade is not an easy album to understand, but it is one that holds deep rewards for those with the patience and determination to discover its full power.
The album consists of two lengthy compositions, each one being over twenty minutes long. This duration is key to the success of Fade, as it ensures that the tracks have plenty of time to grow and develop, gradually building themselves up. It’s not until almost ten minutes in that the first track, “What Was Said Can Never Be Undone”, begins to reach its full power, and the way it is done feels almost organic, like a flower coming to bloom or some strange creature passing through infancy to grow and reach the height of its powers. The gradual layering of drones, sparse percussion, and waves of sound – along with other elements, less easy to describe and identify – is handled with care and skill, and what is most remarkable is that, whilst there is a deep emotional core to the record, exactly what that emotion is often feels conflicted. There is beauty here, for sure, with a sense of grace and, at times, openness; but also a sense of something terrible, lurking in the shadows, its presence – real or imagined – adding to the claustrophobic air. The sparseness of the closing minutes also add to this dual nature – whether it is a relief, or a quietness arising from something sinister is hard to say.
The second track on Fade, “Gran(D)”, is also similarly diverse in its atmosphere. Less overtly oppressive than its counterpart, “Gran(D)” makes use of a repetitive rhythms and rapid chimes to build its atmosphere. Over time, the rhythm comes to feel like that of some warped heartbeat, the chimes those of some distant insect or machine, but whether these are comforting or ominous sounds is hard to say. This kind of tension, caught between two emotional extremes, is absolutely remarkable, and whilst it doesn’t make for an easy or inherently comforting listen, it does result in Fade being a very captivating album that rewards repeated listens, as new elements and aspects as gradually revealed. The album is all the more impressive for the fact that it was composed entirely on a laptop; many of these elements sound sampled, taken from field recordings or live instruments, and that they’re not is both a surprise, and credit to the talents of Schoolhouse.
Fade really is quite a remarkable album. It’s unusual to hear minimalism used this well, where the technique is absolutely key to the impact of the album; but it’s even rarer to come across an album which inspires such diverse, almost contradictory emotions. It makes Fade something very challenging, but very special.
Fade is available to stream, download, and purchase on cassette via Bandcamp.