Antony Milton is one of the most prolific artists around and at times it's difficult keeping up with all his various projects. But that doesn't mean it's not worth the effort. Over the past year, two of his solo projects have really taken flight: A.M. and The Nether Dawn. But oftentimes, it's the lesser-known, unheralded groups and such that Milton is in that leave the biggest impression on me. Take for example last year's collaboration with Pumice under the name Sunken. I rarely heard about it, but it was one of my favorite releases of the year. The point being, with Milton's many projects, it's hard to go wrong.
Enter Clay Man in the Well. This is one of Milton's new solo projects (which makes six by my count: A.M., Antony Milton, The Nether Dawn, Glory Fckn Sun, & Paintings of Windows) and based on what he's offering up on "Steps Toward Dusk," one of my favorites.
Clay Man in the Well sounds just like one would think something under this moniker would. Dirty, lofi recordings that sound like some archaic ritual unearthed on some archaeological dig. Overloaded with tape hiss, Clay Man in the Well is an organic exploration. It literally feels like being trapped in a stone chamber underground. Milton's shambolic approach to these pieces at times seems haphazard, but there's a beauty to be found within that context. Self-described as "otherworldly" and "very psychedelic," Clay Man in the Well is both these things and more. There's a freedom to it, like somebody completely giving up on civilization and hiking out to the middle of nowhere to start again. It is inspiring.
On the six tracks of "Steps Toward Dusk," Milton explores various settings and environments but keeps one constant theme throughout: instinct. All of those tracks happen naturally, like wildflowers growing alongside the highway. It's a beautiful combination of things man-made and things that have been there forever. On "Fantastic," minimal, catchy acoustic guitar plucks are overshadowed by murky walls of feedback and hiss, each element fighting for the spotlight. Within this, Milton's voice emerges, fragile and broken-winged, doing anything it can to get off the ground. This whole piece is so delicate that you feel like you should hold your breath, or else it might fall apart completely.
This entire album was recorded over a week-long period in late Summer 2004, specifically for the Nature Tape Limb label. And if you've heard anything on Nature Tape Limb, hearing this and knowing that, it all makes sense. That sort of decaying-under-the-burning-sun, ramshackle feeling it that was so prevalent (and hypnotic) on Nature Tape Limb's "Naturalism" compilation is all over "Steps Toward Dusk." The drones here don't feel synthetic - they feel like the earth and the grass and the trees howling at the moon.
I love this album. I really do. Antony Milton has done a lot of things in the past couple years that have really impressed me, but this one is near the top. It is like a great beast shaking off the rust after years of solitude. Something about "Steps Toward Dusk" is totally inspiring, like the midnight sun in the arctic, lighting your way at all hours of the day. Recommended. 8/10 -- Brad Rose (3 October, 2005)