Meditations on Music: Cloth’s “settle, repose”

The debut album from Cloth, an acoustic-electric duo of ’17 Lawrence alumni, beautifully accompanies the transition from summer to the start of the school year. At its core, Cloth is a simple project. Their music is built around and on top of field recordings from oboist Sarah Clewett’s time abroad in London — recordings of walks, nature, subways or whatever sound or soundscape struck a chord with her. With these recordings, producer/saxophonist/guitarist Jason Koth creates electronic worlds of sound for the acoustic to interact with, relishing in the liminality between the unplanned and the composed. Clewett and Koth then improvise over these soundscapes, all the while perfectly blending into the brush strokes already set, creating atmospheres outside of song — sonic moments that can only be experienced right from the source.

Time seems to slow until it is almost stationary when I put on this album. It is not that it is completely made of long sustains washed in reverb, but rather that each sound that swells from the speakers is sweet and moving. My ears gather all these sounds in a patient way, as they are laid out patiently and I can simply bask in the tranquility that comes from taking one’s time and using a variety of sounds to produce similar effects.

When listening to “settle, repose,” I did not find myself thinking about the source of sound, nor about how a certain oboe phrase meshed with a certain electronic texture, nor anything of the sort. I was hypnotized by how all the sounds work together; they pull from several sources, but in the same context, they all come from Cloth. This aspect can also remove the preconceived notions of certain instruments, nature sounds, ambient music and more. The album separates itself from the sonic world in which we live, as well as improvised music that can be intimidating to many. It is a unique world, created by Cloth for us to venture in, and we should be thankful.

While the album is mainly serene and positively beautiful, it still manages to deal with a wide range of emotions and feelings — most notably, diving into something darker during “fear is complication is fear.” The characteristic calmness and composure are still there, but there is tension as well. What this track really achieves is a sense of negativity through a prolonged mood rather than short bursts of intensity, high volume, or other common ways of portraying similar feelings. It is as much introspective as it is dark.

The way the duo leaves this sad feeling is just as elegant as the song itself. It is clear that a lot of thought went into the transitions between songs, strengthening the album even more. There is a natural progression, but not a clear story, allowing us listeners to follow loosely, but effectively set our own thoughts to the backdrop. Something very real is guiding Koth and Clewett through this album, but the way in which it remains ambiguous — by removing barriers between sounds, genres, everything — makes it all the more transcendental.

The last few minutes of the album are the most perplexing and alluring in a way the album has not been until this point. With powerful endings of lengthy near-silence in the penultimate and title track, more near-silent or completely silent ambience could be a justified prediction for the closing track, but instead it is something quite different. “[A]bschied,” “farewell” in German, is the most unaffected and untouched field recording in all of “settle, repose,” simply saying goodbye to the listener and the world with a small, upbeat ensemble, presumably playing in a park setting. It is unexpected, yet fitting, and invokes bittersweet thoughts that will most likely leave you with a slight smile on your face. And that is a more than a fine ending for me.

“settle, repose” marks the seventh release from Koth’s label, This Is Not Social Media, an independent means of producing and distributing his collaborations and other music that reflects his values. With a strong emphasis on bridging the gaps between acoustic and electronic, improvised and composed, and distinct yet accessible, all of its releases have a tranquil, otherworldly feeling to them that one can immerse oneself in.

Purchase Cloth’s “settle, repose” at <>, and check out other releases from This Is Not Social Media at <>.