When one discovers a new genre (in this review, that small niche is pedal/loop guitar-drone), the techniques and tools of the trade can often overwhelm perception, inducing gushing excitement over the newness of its sounds. But over time, the novelty fades and exotic notes eventually start sounding like commonplace ones. Suddenly, four juxtaposed guitar loops, all filtered through electronic gadgetry, no longer sound as amazing as they once did. While this dulling of technical luster often corrupts and diminishes individual appreciation, every once in awhile a new affinity arises from this peeling gloss, derived from temporally advanced, though not necessarily refined, preferences. Sarah Lipstate, a.k.a. Noveller, is a perfect example of a time-resistant artist. Lipstate is among a cohort of pedal pressers and loopers whose initial appeal, while radiant at first, no longer resonate with me. Yet Lipstate’s music, and Glacial Glow in particular, has managed to make a deeper impression.
The immediate question is why Noveller instead of countless kin? With regards to her music (and many sorts of music in general), the root of this problem — specifically, a non-stationary intertemporal decision problem — is that once the bells and whistles of a sound are no longer focal, all that is left is, theoretically, what is ‘actually’ heard. Here, an interest in the compositional process is no longer about the relationship between notes on parchment and how they are emitted, but about the felt timbres and an emotional response to songcraft. In Lipstate’s music, the latter is more prominent than in her contemporaries. The pulsating structures of her loops resemble the hook-based narrative of more popular idioms, a realization that may not be immediately apparent when focusing on the peculiarities of her guitar tones. And like in popular music, often a lasting relationship with a song, album, or artist is tantamount to both exemplary songwriting and empathetic resonance.
On Glacial Glow, flurries of compositional details accentuate a reassuring aesthetic, inviting us seamlessly into her world. The background pitches of “Glacial Wave” are similar enough to the rhythms of my forgotten friend Music for 18 Musicians to stimulate familiarity without reminding me of why said friend has been long forgotten. Dashes of “Tuesday Before Poland” shimmer with the always comforting Durutti Column-esque plucking. And Noveller’s invitations feel self-contained; I am gently coaxed into my state by “Entering,” whereas “Ends” blissfully disengages her hold over me. The hold that the technical flare of Noveller’s music has, then, seems exogenously determined — not uniquely a function of the musician’s prowess, but by the sonic environment of the musical consumer. While Lipstate’s tricks are ubiquitous (though in no way cheap), this sentiment is a manifestation of how fortunate I have been, as I am sure other have as well, to see so many ‘noise’ performers drool over equipment hoarding, routing their guitar through whatever they can to explore sounds they in all likelihood could never generate through more orthodox methods.
So then I must concede that my position and perspective is neither erudite nor universally relatable. A rejection or commendation of Noveller’s music based principally on her equipment is as well-founded as my positive reaction to her aural ephemera. What I might have once thought to be the peeling of outer layers of Noveller’s music to reach its meaningful core is in reality the chaotic dynamics that govern the resolution of cultural taste and belief uncertainty. It’s a process whose indeterminacy might frustrate some, but I find it delightful, doubly so since it has allowed me to appreciate and understand Noveller on an emotional plane.