Will Long’s early 2019 Celer release exemplifies all the qualities one might expect from someone whose discography is at this stage staggering in volume: assurance, artfulness, and poise. Yet Xièxie (in English, thanks) is also characterized by properties one would associate with the work of a burgeoning talent, someone with but a few releases to speak of: imagination and freshness, for starters. To Long’s credit, the material on this expansive set shows no sign of fatigue or exhaustion, no lessening of conviction or engagement. It’s classic Celer but also a recording that somehow manages to stand apart from its predecessors.
Issued in multiple formats (download, double-LP, double-CD, double-cassette), Xièxie could be described as a ninety-five-minute, two-part aural diary of a China visit by the Japan-based American artist, with stops in Shanghai and Hangzhou and a ride on the high-speed Maglev parts of the itinerary. The recording hews to a familiar ambient template in blending site-specific field recordings with immersive soundscapes, many of the latter pushing past the ten-minute mark (the longest, at twenty-two minutes, “For the entirety”). But the way Long sequences the tracks and effects transitions between them reflects the practice of a highly skilled craftsperson.
Details included in the titles of the four field recordings pieces provide orientation. At the outset, “(06.23.17) From the doorway of the beef noodle shop, shoes on the street in the rain, outside the karate school” locates us within a setting teeming with traffic, car horns, and voices, the faint strains of the ambient piece that follows growing more audible as the opening progresses. The repetition of gently wavering synth tones lends “Rains lit by neon” a calming, dreamlike quality that suggests mist covering the city, after which the melancholy meditation “In the middle of the moving field” perpetuates the effect even more affectingly with an entrancing loop one imagines could go on forever. The field recordings pieces often act as connecting points between the ambient ones, with the forty-four-second “(06.26.17) Maglev at 303 km/h,” for example, facilitating the transition from “In the middle of the moving field” to the softly glimmering “Text me when you wake up.” The second part formally begins with “(06.24.17) Birds inside the high halls of Hangzhou, (06.23.17) Shanghai red line, metro karaoke,” the industrial whoosh of the metro car audible amidst the babble of adult and children. Mirroring the sequencing of the opening tracks, the two-part “Prelude to obsession” follows with twenty-four luscious minutes of shimmering loops.
The seven ambient settings are quintessential Celer, each an absorbing, plaintive reverie. With incessant repetitions of descending strings and horns figures assembled into a flow that’s equally stirring, luminous, and Gas-like, “For the entirety” is perhaps the loveliest, with the ethereal closer “Our dream to be strangers” a close second. With so many releases in the Celer discography (as of this writing, Discogs lists 211 project-related releases), it’s difficult if not impossible to determine exactly where any one falls, hierarchically speaking. That said, Xièxie is undoubtedly a standout and for longtime followers of the project will very likely be regarded as indispensable.