With only a passing listen, Glacial Glow, Sarah Lipstate’s fourth full-length album of experimental guitar work under the moniker Noveller, may sound like the perfect soundtrack to a waffy SXSW indie film; it fulfills requirements for atmosphere and melancholy, but it’s one-note all the same. To pigeonhole it in this corner alone would be a shortsighted judgment though, as it would dismiss the stellar subtlety on display. An astute set of ears isn’t a requirement, but a willingness to explore only enhances the experience.
Constructed with guitar, a litter of pedals, and an array of effervescent effects, the eight songs—or rather soundscapes—that make up Glacial Glow are also wonderfully suited to be unjacked from iTunes and taken on a road trip, which is the way I first heard them. They accent the highways and byways with a plethora of moods that can only help make the monotonous activity of long-distance driving all the more magical.
Guitars waft in on the nostalgic, haunting currents of the simply titled opening track, “Entering,” before being ungracefully undercut by a tragic-sounding whine. Humming along at nearly six minutes, “Glacial Wave” is the album’s longest cut, though it’s relatively short compared to past Noveller tunes, which often rocket into double digits. Three minutes into the languid, suggestively arctic track, a sudden but undisruptive new layer of sound pops; like the first moments of a winter thaw, the guitars build to a sparkling crescendo and then back again. This is quintessential Noveller, where Lipstate trusts the nebulous flows of the moment to shape a piece rather than force it into creation. The two-part “Blue” and “Resolutions” follows suit, with sonar-like blips and beeps dancing around the bellowing rumble of guitar.
Glacial Glow‘s emotional core is grounded in “Alone Star” and “Tuesday Before Poland,” which evoke the alienation of urban life. The album is a turning point for Lipstate, offering some of her most compositionally cohesive, refined songs, while managing to sacrifice none of the verve and licentiousness of her past work, which makes it the most complete—and most likely accessible—Noveller album to date.