Album Review: Celer - Xièxie
I started walking to work in the late fall, out of necessity.
The brakes went out in the car that I drove—had been driving since 2005, and the repairs it needed were entirely too expensive to take on for something having little to no value, and was barely being held together as it was.
During this time in our lives, what I had started calling ‘The Year of Silence,’ walking to work has not been an issue, or created much of an inconvenience for me. I used to come home on my lunch break, but at this point, it is not imperative that I do so; I can bring my lunch to work, and find some quiet part of the building to eat it in where, hopefully, no one will bother me.
We, thankfully, don’t live very far from where either my wife, or myself, work; for me, it takes roughly 15 minutes to get in the morning—sometimes a little longer on the way home.
The late fall, and into the beginning of winter, is not the best time to begin walking anywhere, really, but I found ways to make due with the drastic fluctuations in temperature—especially in the morning, before the sun rises, when it can be the most brisk.
At work, when my colleagues express concern over my walks—the length, the temperature outside, etc.—I tell them I do not mind, and that I use it as a time for ‘silent reflection.’
Depending on how I’m feeling when someone asks me what kind of music I listen to, I may tell them that I primarily listen to old John Coltrane records, rap music from the early 1990s, and ambient droning. I don’t really use my 15 minutes in the morning, then, again, in the afternoon, as a time of completely silent reflection—I have been trying to make the best of my walking time by listening to music on a second-hand iPod that, much like the car I used to drive, is barely being held together.
Sometimes it’s an album I need to focus on listening to for review purposes, and other times, it’s something simply to serve as an enjoyable soundtrack for the walk to or from work.
I’ve found that now, since we are truly in the winter of my discontent, listening to ambient droning pumping in through my headphones as I trudge through my neighborhood—especially on mornings when it has either just finished snowing, or is still snowing, creates this bizarre feeling that is both comforting, yet unsettling.
Will Long, per the very brief bio on his Bandcamp site, is ‘an American artist living in Japan’; on his personal Instagram page, you’ll find nothing but a steady stream of very dramatic, artistic photographs, taken with 35mm film; however, you will not find any information about the music he produces under the moniker Celer.
As I’ve spent the last two weeks, give or take, immersed in the sprawling new release from Long, Xièxie, which roughly translates from Chinese to English simply as ‘thanks,’ I was trying to recall how it was that I first became introduced to Long’s compositions—it turns out it was through a one-off collaborative LP he put together with the, at the time, like minded composer, Nicholas Burrage (nee Szczepanik), Here, for now, released in 2015.
That effort lead me to check out one of Long’s 2015 additional efforts, the charmingly titled How could you believe me when I loved you, when you know I’ve been a liar all my life, as well as one other release from the same year, Templehof.
As Celer, Long is overwhelmingly prolific. In roughly the last three years, he’s put out 10 releases—and not just digital efforts dumped on to Bandcamp; no, everything is given a proper physical edition as well—mostly CDs, with the occasional LP or cassette.
Xièxie is an ambitious project for Long—a double album, put together into two very distinct parts that, in a way, are structured to mirror each other; together, the record totals over 90 minutes of music, with extravagant physical editions including silver or black vinyl, along with a double CD set, or two cassettes.
With the physical products available in June (a bit of a long time to wait, I know) the digital version is made up of the anticipated individual mp3s, but what you get when you buy Xièxie also, smartly, includes seamless versions of the record—put together in two very lengthy files, leading one to believe that until the silver vinyl is spinning on my turntable, these are the intended way to listen.
Xièxie is less of an album that you simply just listen to; it’s more of an album that you experience—it has a transformative, transcendental power to it that Long pulls off effortlessly. From the moment it begins with a field recording, as the album’s true ‘first’ piece slides in underneath it then takes over, until the very last drone dissolves into the ether, you are at the mercy of Long, who is, in a sense, holding you captive, in the dense, evocative atmosphere he’s weaved together.
Everything moves faster than we can control. Days are just flashes, moments are mixed up but burned on film, and all of the places and times are out of order. If it could only be us, only ours. If it was ours, if it was us. Sometimes everything goes faster than you can control and you can't stop, much less understand where you are.
I hesitate to say that Xièxie is a concept album, but it is a very self-contained work, with its tone and structure inspired by Long’s trip to China in 2017. He discusses this, somewhat ambiguously, on the Bandcamp page for the album, stating that before he left, he bought a phrase book and dictionary to help get around, but by the end of his travels, the only word he ever used was “xièxie.”
His reflection on the trip is quite beautiful, and haunting—much like the music that this trip wound up inspiring, and throughout Xièxie, Long does an impressive job of being able to take the evocative imagery of his travels—including the self-described rainy, foggy, glowing days and nights in Shanghai and the cacophonic rhythm of the city, to the frenetic blur of speeding to Hangzhou on a bullet train, and translate it into glacially paced, stark, and gorgeous pieces of music.
But, of course, the field recordings included at the beginning of each half to Xièxie assist with immersing you in this world. The album’s opening track, “From the doorway of the beef noodle shop, shoes on the street in the rain, outside the karate school,” is, exactly what it sounds like it would be—setting the tone that is slowly introduced underneath the sound of children shouting in unison as they begin a karate exercise and the perpetual drizzle of the rain. Aptly titled, “Rains lit by neon,” the mournful, pensive drones come rushing in and Long manages to sustain them in the small pattern with which they oscillate for over 8 minutes.
The length of these pieces on Xièxie is another thing worth discussing—as well as the patience you must have with an album like this, and the kind of “it takes as long as it’s going to take” kind of mindset Long must possess when composing the, again, aptly titled “For the entirety,” which spans 21 minutes and change, arriving at the end of the album’s first ‘side’ as it were; it’s a beyond majestic, swooning kind of piece that is, again, structured around a minimalistic pattern of changes that swirls, and swirls, and as it does, it completely envelops you.
Across Xièxie’s seven long form compositions, Long manages to craft the kind of melancholic, wondrous drones that have an almost immediate, dizzying, and visceral emotional reaction with you. He spends the album walking the line between sounds that are hopeful but bittersweet, and incredibly reflective and somber—sometimes all at once; it’s an album that is the kind of thing you can, all too easily, become lost in, and the emotional gravity tethered within these sounds needs to be heard to truly be understood.
Xièxie is available now as a digital download, with pre-orders ongoing in myriad physical formats.