A House Once Lived
That Never Was 





A House Once Lived That Never Was, oh boy, this is an enigmatic title, so is there a Dark Ambient attitude attached to it? Not at all! The album is created by Chicago-based guitarist and Drone visionary Jason Shanely aka Cinchel who has just delivered his most personal work. Sentences like this have been written hundreds of thousands of times before and have therefore lost all of their meaning, d’accord. But maybe it helps things to stress that Cinchel has worked on this album for over a year (March 2012 – June 2013), quite a long time for an artist who isn't touring around the world day in, day out. Over a year later, this artifact is now available to purchase and stream at Bandcamp and spans the whopping amount of 25 movements; A House Once lived That Never Was has a lot in store for fans of Cinchel, both in terms of the music and the added color zine of twisted nature sceneries as photographed by the artist and his wife Kirstie Shanley, a professional photographer. He introduced this 25-track home with the following words to me: "It’s very different from what you’ve heard from me." I didn’t brood much over this remark, lest I would abolish the constant source of textural changes and influx of ideas showcased by Cinchel’s last two works, the accidental Hauntology copse of wisps called Quiet Nights, Lonesome Woods (2013) and the calcined acatalepsy of bent frequencies that is Reign Water (2014).


A House Once Lived That Never Was adds a third – and eminently benign – mould to the artistic cannelure, as all amplifiers and processing wizardry have seemingly come to a halt, making room for a (borrowed) acoustic guitar, an ebow and a violin. I write the term seemingly, for this notion is naturally not entirely true: no matter the bonfire vignettes, melancholic withdrawals and rural reveries, the blotchy frontmost melody is regularly hued in an oscillating drone backdrop which is oftentimes so exciting and vital that this very background washes over the nostalgic movements and becomes itself the center of attention. The long preparation and recording time hints at another interesting fact: whatever Cinchel released during – and since – that time frame, this aural building was there all along, once a ruin, then steadily built anew, now a house that exists and is yet called A House Once Lived That Never Was. An alternative title could be suite of the seasons due to the conglomeration of tracks which make up the respective season. Cinchel lent me the keys to the house, so I’m more than willed to enter.


Spring in Cinchel’s world is disappointingly short, a mere breeze in the bigger picture, but a refreshing one at that, inheriting a limewashed scent of nature’s recalcitrance in regard to the much colder season before it. The five tracks of the spring suite are charged with that purity, a soothing diorama aquiver with bustling sceneries and moments of rest that allow a modicum of absorbance. The opener It’s Finally Warm Again, But Sometimes It Still Snows is situated in this heterodyned catch–22 of prolonged drones and pristine guitar licks, letting the rectilineal riverine reunite with chunked icicles. Already much more earthbound and erbaceous than all the other gems on the albums before it, Jason Shanley manages to pour gaseous elements of wonder into the scenery, with mellowed string-based sine tones that more or less resemble a long-decay spark of a vibraphone. A strange pressure of the rewarding, welcome kind is unleashed in Tulip Bulbs Breaking Ground In The Garden Outside as the joyously vesiculating acoustic guitar layers multiplex sunbursts, concupiscence and spells against all infaust putrefaction. Stacking three (or so) melodies on top of each other, the layering effect on this second track is another golden thread that reappears time and again on this album, allowing as much room for coruscating flashes as for a green gradient and hazy helix bridging the gaps and little locales of emptiness. No surprise, Cinchel’s A House Once Lived That Never Was is no dedicated Drone album, but there are moments where the sylvan legato washes of besotted bliss aggrandize and morph from a mere undercurrent to a three-dimensional ctenidium encapsulating the listening – or sitting – subject, as in Porch Swings with its bonfire comfort zone that is flooded with a bubbling yet sustained effulgence.


Cinchel’s summer suite meanwhile marks the high point temperature-wise, comprising of a drier sound with an even bigger focus on the acoustic guitar amid the violin- and ebow-accentuated landscapes and locales. Summer Solstice Picnic In The Field Out Back comprises of powerfully dark but by no means frightening ebow streamlets, a susurration of aptly earthbound ground loops and beautifully unblended airflows akin to an echopraxia of syrinxes, making it once more important to note that no woodwinds or mallet instruments found their way into the intrinsic area. Filling Up The Wading Pool, Playing Outside All Day is an example where Cinchel has thrown all self-imposed trademarks over board, with not a single galactic molecule gyrating around the house’s exterior; bubbly guitar aortas plink and scythe mirthfully through the sun-dappled sphere not unlike the ones found in Pieces Of The White Sun (2013) by the Austin, Texas-based duo Fires Were Shot. Aeriform but utterly close to the perigee, this non-Drone acoustic alloy augments the interstices, the process of reciprocation between the sounds, their afterglow and the ensuing silence. This pattern seems like a patchwork, a bale of hay lying in the fields. Its counterpart would be Just Sitting On The Porch, with similarly saccharified convulsions of happiness, but with a moister physiognomy, more akin to aureoles than glittering prongs. This is a Drone track alright, but one which makes it both possible to distill each single tone and surface and one which is unexpectedly lively and more related to an epiphany or sudden inspiration than a solely hammock-compatible zoetrope of heat haze.


Alas, summer is over soon, making room for – attention, Sherlock – autumn and winter, and it is here where Cinchel’s album might impress listeners the most. Instead of a horticultural equipoise, oneiric undertones of doubt occasionally spread, making A House Once Lived That Never Was a polylayered work aesthetically speaking. The process unwinds slowly, is probably not intended at all, but undoubtedly attached to the Occidental thought of the more unwanted seasons where florescence turns into efflorescence. All The Rooms Are Quiet harbors both an uneasy feeling and moments of delight, with the spacy (!) longitudinal air movement being a hauntingly eldritch adjuvant to a granuloma full of aerose acoustic guitars. Their complexion and gestalt are again surprisingly atypical in the given context: backwards played strings, rather eclectic tone sequences and a petrifying emptiness in the background release some sort of pressure that may not be asphyxiating, but still disturbing. Sitting In The Rocking Chair Reading A Good Book shows another oscillating moment of elysian reflection, however, After The Big Meal We Sit Around And Remember depicts a situation of shared memories and thus pinpoints the quandary of lost times and new-gained experiences via a mélange of mountainous euphonies and admixed strums in minor.


And once winter arrives, the mood shifts towards gloomier climes. This is again not the least bit creepy or horrific, I am only talking about schemes and scents, be they figments, a fugacity or something else. Hiding Christmas Gifts Under The Stairs And In The Closets is a noble – and commonplace – endeavor, but the soundscape shifts, the staccato violin and bumblebee-like choirs cause a paradoxically lively melancholia which is still nowhere near the ecclesiastical Christmas mood one so loves and despises. That Sound The Radiators Make and the subsequent Tea Kettle song are consequentially emaciated, helicoidal, acidic, apocryphal. The violin (or electric guitar?) screeches, the droning nature is sine-based, Cinchel’s thinly layered LP Reign Water comes to mind. Dark, spiteful ebow bursts only amplify the utter shift. It is not the last track of the album, but a good endpoint to the descriptive part of the review, showcasing that there is literally room left in that house to scare and harken back to Cinchel’s previous albums.


A House Once Lived That Never Was is a songwriter album, the big deal being that Cinchel recently overcame the elasticized nebulae and dreamy diffusions of his guitar-based Drone albums and now lets the listener soak in the parallax placentas of upfront melodies and either sparsely illumined murkiness or chromaticity-affine bokeh beams. The track titles are incredibly descriptive and frantically dead-on, so clear-cut and precise that they have become the – otherwise non-existing – explanatory notes or, if you will, the clandestine corollary to end all speculations and let the music become enshrined in the text-based foundation of that house. The focus on the acoustic guitar which really is the heart and essence of the album reminds of pianist Bruno Bavota’s The Secret Of The Sea (2014), a curious remark given that Bavota is preferably a pianist and that the stringed instrument has found its way to his soundscapes only recently as well.


Three primary columns are resembled by the stringed instruments, all of them different in their tonality: there is nature itself whose bloomy veil and great force come to life in pieces like the slapped string compunctions of Rain Floods, Harsh Sounds, then there is the bustling activity of humans as depicted in tracks like Preparing For Guests…, and finally, there is enough room in that very house for remoteness and contemplation, for musings and thoughts; mundane situations such as Sitting In The Rocking Chair Reading A Good Book spawn calm and a Tuscan loftiness. And once it is calm in the house and cold outside, emptiness overcomes the subject, noises are heard that are familiar yet prone to widen and nurture the aura of silence. In the album’s best moments, Cinchel admixes delicately cosmic low frequency capsules to the sceneries, bringing back the mellow oomph of his reworked live album Isolation Experiments, Vol. 1 (2013), albeit in a mercilessly whitewashed aura on tracks such as Just Sitting On The Porch or That Sound The Radiators Make. It is, I presume, the work Cinchel has spent the most time with, having soaked in all the seasons and memories that come with it. It is refreshingly direct, honest even, with no hidden meanings or trapdoors. It shows Jason Shanley’s skills on various stringed devices in a different way. Is this a reaction to the rebuilt adage called Post-Processing killed the Drone star? I guess there is a mystery tied to this house after all.


Further listening and reading: 

  • You can purchase and stream the album at Bandcamp.
  • Follow Cinchel on Twitter: @cinchel.


Ambient Review 345: Cinchel – A House Once Lived That Never Was (2014). Originally published on May 28, 2014 at