[Reviewed by Peter Marks]
The atmosphere condenses, the strings flit across an etheric diorama and slowly the voices begin to rise. RASP is a new project, comprised of Matt Howden and Jo Quail where the rules of songwriting do not apply. This album is the product of live improvisation in front of a live audience, no safety net is apparent; our duo had to execute these works relying on their skill and intuition. We are quite lucky to get this kind of insight, most artists tend to shroud their material in absolute secrecy… only choosing to reveal what they’ve done when it is completely finished. There is no secrecy with RASP, no closed door writing sessions, no vague press releases and certainly not even the slightest whiff of pretense.
With this pair, what you hear is what you get. Raw. Unfiltered. Straight from the source, as it were. Those who witnessed these shows can definitely be proud to have done so. Howden’s violin and Quail’s cello are a perfect match, each playing off what the other does and in some cases even reversing the dynamic of what people would expect. That is to say, her cello is not always the one laying the foundation here and his vocals definitely are used purely as an instrument at times. My favorites are the narrative-based ones, “Rain Falls” and “Psychic Experience” if you want specifics. Both demonstrate the absolute mastery each of these players have at scoring the words of others. They can make your world theirs with just the flick or pull of the bow. Magnificent.
All 10 of these compositions come together as you listen and it isn’t done just by adding layer upon layer, more importantly it is accomplished by making silence the constant in everything they do. Each note comes out of it and is built up through the inter-cutting of that emptiness against extremely varied, deliriously colorful arrangements. Howden sums it up best on “Sing For All You’re Worth”: less is more, it takes a while to really know this. Interplay is key here, with the elements being woven into delicate portraits which have seemingly no beginning and no end. Nor is there any kind of overt agenda being driven on here, artistry is key and whether it is Matt applying processing to his vocals or Jo swirling the strings of her cello through the musings of a man revising his faith in the rain: they remain firmly committed to their ideals.
Those notes can go on infinitely for all I care, this had better not be a one-off. Oh you lot who attended have no idea how lucky you were, this sort of endeavor could have only come from England. No other place has the history and character to produce what I’m hearing! RASP are steeped in melancholy and aged in the most peculiar manner; you could say they are like a fine barley wine which most find to be too strong or which puts too much fire in the bones. They’re definitely fearless. I’d even go one further and call their musicianship feral, completely wild. Unbound by the conventions which only tie a person down to theories and resolution, smothering creativity in a morass fashioned from regrets and cowardice.
Jo and Matt stand against this, their tiny schooner sails toward that armada but they won’t back down. Their collaboration is far more than it seems taken on face value… they have begun a revolution.