Steve Hadfield – Displacement Activity Volume 1: Album Review

Released: 31st January 2020

Label: See Blue Audio

Format: DD / DSP

Displacement Activity Vol. 1 is pitched as the first in a series of collections of ambient music, serving as awelcome outlet for Steve Hadfield’s experimental side. Whilst drawing on ambient techniques, such as field recording, drone and noise manipulation, this is not however a typical ambient EP.

With 6 pieces coming in at just over 19 minutes total, this collection is concise and incredibly rewarding, delivering exactly Hadfield’s intention without aimless ambling or repetition. There are moments of moodiness and elation in equal measure, without ever losing clarity of sound, direction or balance, all testament to the quality of Hadfield’s production.

The Sunlight opens the record with reverberant cathedralesque shimmers which move around the room, whilst piano tones take pentatonic steps in the background of reflected sound. Distortion and feedback are introduced subtly and function as harmonic elements,which never threat to impose themselves on the more delicate elements as the piece swells to a clean finish.

The broken lo-fi dark synth bass of Tremors leads in immediate contrast, layered with glitched blips and invoking a sense of a journey underway. The use of piano here introduces timbrel familiarity, bringing a sense of cohesion. As the piece progresses the bass gets more rounded and assured, the piano is chopped up and we are again assured by the return of another element from The Sunlight. 

Space is an interlude which marks a shift in the EP. The sound of a brief walk through crisp woodland, as solitary piano notes step, hinting at melody. The piece serves well to bring the natural warmth of the piano to the fore and cast off concerns of conventional rhythm and time.

In Reflections time becomes more a concept as the lead progresses to almost major melodic breakthroughs, snatched to atonal dissonance at the last. The entrance of a sombre string backing to a fading tone invokes shafts of light in an otherwise sinister setting and brings a sense of harmony to otherwise disparate constituents.

Gaze of the Moon continues the journey deeper into the unknowable universe with a heightened sense of manipulation, returning to rhythmic acceptance with a beat which could dare to be grandiose at more than a nod to Hadfield’s compositional alter-ego.

Concluding the EP is the epic Middle Distance, which returns us to an ecclesiastic setting, taking the organic beauty in a choral harmony and crushing it with feedback well before our love can be soured. A ghost of the choral resonance remains to see out the piece and the record.

Displacement Activity Vol. 1 goads by moving with such pace that the listener never has the chance to foresee its next move, whilst simultaneously maintaining a sense of anticipation and providing well-crafted conclusions. Even after repeat listens, it leaves the listener wanting more and leaving the body of work in much the same way as it is experienced; very much in anticipation of the future instalments in the series.

Steve is set to release his next full-length on the 17th April via Disintegration State, with Displacement Activity Vol. 2 set for release via See Blue Audio later in 2020.

You can catch him live at Hymns for Robots in Lancaster on the 28th May, with more dates to be announced.

Steve Hadfield: Bandcamp / Twitter / Instagram

Read more from Dan’s archive here. Dan tweets here.

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