Are You There is not an easy listen. If you think you can casually fire up your player, press play, sit back and nonchalantly enjoy its delights, think again. This album brings new dimensions to the meaning of brooding and pushes the boundaries of what counts as moody and atmospheric. It is dark, stark, intense, tumultuous, at times overwhelming and does not, for one second, let up the relentless and urgent demand that you actively and whole-heartedly listen.
When a recording demands effort and attentiveness in order to fully appreciate the musical experience being offered, it is a commitment which is usually well worth making. This is no exception. What we have here is the work of a master keyboardist demonstrating exactly what can be achieved when you know and understand intimately every aspect of what your instrument is capable of doing. In the process, Łapaj shapes something frighteningly brilliant.
What you notice from the very beginning isn’t, in the first instance, the music itself – though in fact, it is precisely that which tips you off to what is going on. The music is framed and presented with a clarity which makes it stand out with razor sharp presence. The production is crafted in a way where the musical delivery takes place against a sprawling background of pure cavernous silence. The performance is accentuated, thrown into immaculate detail and incredible relief exactly because of the expansive depths of the spaces in which it happens.
Yet when the music does begin, yet again, it is not the music you notice first. Opening track Pieces is akin to the experience of listening to nails being dragged down a chalkboard. It is not so much about music as about the importance of noise. Right from the outset, what Łapaj does is make a fascinating point about blurring the boundaries between music and noise, the complex relationship between them, and through a quick series of experimental contrasts, brilliantly shows how they feed into and off each other.
It is something to which he returns again in In Limbo where he skilfully plays not just with contrasts this time, but with growing music within noise and vice versa. The two have this wonderful, intricate symbiotic dance where again the vast and inky depths of the soundstage frame and showcase the ebb and flow quite superbly. The track brims with a cold menace whilst gradually building a sumptuous layered landscape ultimately leading to a richly textured crescendo of lingering and echoing sound, noise, patterns and rhythms.
Even when he introduces vocals into the mix, it is not always in the form you expect. Fleeting Skies uses the stunning voice of Bela Komoszyńska to demonstrate the sheer power and range of the human voice as an instrument. No words are spoken or sung. Instead, you are confronted with the most captivating, disciplined yet raw passage where Bela cries out in a variety of insistent almost native indigenous, even shamanistic chants, wails, vocalisations, interjections – always in key and in perfect pitch. It is astonishing as well as mesmerising.
The album is not without its more ‘traditional’ moments. Mick Moss brings a supremely smooth and accomplished performance to Flying Blind, imbued with emotional nuance and forlorn longing. But even here, Łapaj cannot resist. Moss appears a second time in Shattered Memories where the vocal is initially filtered, then laden with delicate vibrato, then given strength and emphasis as it is made to compete with a sizzling, almost ferocious and overwhelming background of contorted, fuzzed music.
Are You There is an album of restless inquisitiveness, lovingly crafted by a supremely gifted maestro who intuitively discerns with every fibre of his being what music is capable of revealing when you understand the exquisite depths your instrument can summon and the sublime blend of textures it can express. To really appreciate what Łapaj has achieved with this release, I strongly suggest a hearty tweak of the volume control – not only to hear all the delicious treasures being offered but to feel them wash over you in a consuming, enveloping rapture. This is definitely something to be savoured.
01. Pieces (2:44)
02, Flying Blind (feat. Mick Moss) (4:07)
03. Shattered Memories (feat. Mick Moss) (7:12)
04. Shelter (feat. Bela Komoszyńska) (4:57)
05. Where Do We Run (10:13)
06. Fleeting Skies (feat. Bela Komoszyńska) (5:44)
07. In Limbo (11:42)
08. Unspoken (5:24)
09. Surfacing (7:02)
10. From Within (3:37)
Total Time – 63:26
Michał Łapaj – Keyboards, Hammond Organ, Piano, Synthesiser
Artur Szolc – Drums, Percussion
Bela Komoszyńska – Vocals (tracks 4 & 6)
Mick Moss – Vocals (tracks 2 & 3)
Paulina Kimbar-Łapaj – Lyrics
Record Label: Mystic Production
Format: CD, Vinyl
Country of Origin: Poland
Date of Release: 16th July 2021