Something that has really become “a thing” in my life in the past year is wordless music that still manages to tell a story. I’ve always had some appreciation for instrumental compositions, but spent enough of my early adulthood as the vocalist for bands that I’ve often connected the most with lyrically oriented sounds. With albums like Sailor Boy II by Canadian sound artist Noordwiijk, I find myself relying less on outright guidance and more on the general atmosphere and gentle suggestion, and it’s become a wonderful unlocking of imaginative beauty. Beauty, in this case, is not something that comes easily. It’s a comfort achieved by the artist’s use of contrast, and it’s an experiment that works quite effectively.
While Sailor Boy II falls more into the experimental side of things, it’s hard to slap a genre on this and call it accurate. Instead, this album is almost an experiential sound collage, documenting an ocean voyage from the perspective of a young boy in the year 1952. The subject matter is quite specific and the sounds seem to tap into all of the wonder, confusion, and isolation of being a child adrift in the Atlantic Ocean. The particulars of the journey are, perhaps, irrelevant here, where we often get the aural equivalent of last thoughts before sleep. Nagging chirps and squeals of fluttering horns cut across otherwise serene ambiance on “Schwarzwald trio part 3” while crackling percussion and electroacoustic wizardry set the scene on “Silver Fox.” It’s an inconsistent set of sounds used to great effect in conveying an experience that is surprisingly seamless and singular in its execution.
When Noordwiijk’s oddly meticulous cut-and-paste approach is at its finest, on tracks like “Chadburn Transmissions,” one can almost hear the inner workings of a ship humming and working together while rough seas crash outside. It’s not an easy listen, but the fusion of slippery percussion and ambient noise around the edges of everything creates something utterly believable, that shows more than it tells. In this way, Sailor Boy II is every bit the perfectly told story one would ask for, just with collected sounds serving as the narrator rather than human voice or written word. Even the oddly serene closer “Last Memories” feels like a piece of a greater whole rather than an independent composition, with its shimmering piano that echoes across the listener’s sonic periphery and its barren synth lines coming together toward something simultaneously uplifting and somber.
This album’s nearly a year old at this point, yet it still crackles its way to the front of my mind every time I sit down to write, so it’s well due that we share it together. I hope you’ll consider grabbing a copy of this tape from Jeunesse Cosmique, as the presentation is simple yet elegant and complements the music nicely.