Sometimes in life, it’s not what you know but who you know that makes the ride an enjoyable one. Noveller – aka Sarah Lipstate – opened up for Iggy Pop at the Royal Albert Hall date of his Post Pop Depression tour, which is where many people here in the UK will have first come across her. Or maybe it was Iggy’s Radio 6 show? Iggy, a regular champion of her work, described Noveller as making “symphonies for people who don’t have a lot of time”, and went on to employ her unique and singular talents for his latest studio album, Free, and on the few live dates he completed in support of it before Covid-19 shut everything down.
However, Iggy isn’t Lipstate’s only friend, fan or supporter – the likes of St Vincent, Wire, US Girls, The Jesus Lizard and Helium have all taken her out on tour with them. And it’s within this group where you’ll find most of her music residing – an arty, abrasive, choppy, hazily nocturnal blend of ambient music, noise rock and art rock.
Rune begins the album with huge, arcing swathes of glassy feedback, as though you’re hearing the music of the spheres, or hearing the Northern Lights made sound. There’s a sinister, haunting thrum underpinning the track too, which lends the whole composition an eerie, otherworldly quality. Effektology, which follows, begins in a meditative, Brian Eno trance before seemingly becoming possessed by a voiceless ghost that leaves trails of howling noise behind it. Similar to how Eno’s darkest ambient moments (on Ambient 4: On Land and The Ship especially) have a kind of elemental beauty to them, Effektology summons an instinctive, primal reaction from its listener.
Pattern Recognition, which goes through an almost palimpsestic transformation, starts with a fragile melodic refrain that gradually gets eaten by a larger, more menacing collection of loops and noises. Canyons, however, undergoes the opposite transformation, and starts frenetically and ends peacefully. Thorns sounds exactly as you’d imagine it does – all prickly edges and sharp corners. It’s definitely amongst the most sonically abrasive things Lipstate’s ever put to tape.
The whole album – and indeed, everything Noveller ever releases – is imbued with this sense of grand, nocturnal foreboding that is as enticing as it is threatening. Her sonic artworks are beautiful but never inviting, brooding but never depressing, enormous but never overwhelming. There is a studied, intellectual slant to the music, and it’s that feel which allows for the compositions to be played through multiple times without causing fatigue. This is none more apparent than on album closer Remainder, which is similar in execution to the work she did on Iggy’s Free album. It’s vaguely tropical, but almost completely abstracted from its original inspiration. It looms and stares but never quite threatens. It’s dark and deep but also rich and powerful.
While her music isn’t ‘ambient’ in the strictest sense, what it does do is give the listener a chance to open their mind, and allow themselves to see their thoughts through the prism of Lipstate’s cosmically-charged compositions. Like Eno in his prime, Noveller is music not only for the open-minded, but for the inquisitive. It’s a joyous, enthralling sound that she makes, and it seems to be getting more enticing with each release.