Vanishing is the unique creative project of Gareth Smith, a working class time-served engineer turned artistic world builder who has traded in his toolbox for the means to write evocative music and resonant lyrics. His stunning new album Shelter Of The Opaque seizes quotidian reality and either scrapes away at the veneer to reveal the awful machinery of how things are underneath or overlays it with a gossamer filigree to suggest how they could be instead. The musician – who was born in Hull but now lives and works in Manchester and has worked previously with Lonelady and Gnod – dove deep into his family history on previous albums, 55°N, 5°E (2021) and Ends Without Redress (2023), to tell the story of his great grandfather George Henry Smith who died in the Dogger Bank Incident of 1904 when Russian warships mistook a fleet of British trawlers for the enemy and opened fire. But this time he knew that creative change was necessary. Work started on building the skeleton of the album in 2018 with a session at the utopian cultural space, Worm in Rotterdam, featuring his trusty lieutenant, saxophonist Karl D’Silva (Drunk In Hell) and modular synth player Sam Weaver (Cuspeditions); while strings were added later by Abstract Concrete members Otto Willberg and Agathe Max plus Ecka Mordecai in Manchester. Smith guided the sessions via a series of simple imagistic commands, only adding his vocals after the music was done.
“I have a lot of energy to burn off”, says Smith, referring to the fact that many of the lyrics were composed while on epic walks round the cities of Manchester and Hull during the years of lockdown. “I look at it as a very Northern record”, he adds saying that other notable locations in the genesis included writing sessions at Bidston Observatory Artistic Research Centre in Birkenhead, musical arrangements created with D’Silva in Rotherham with the final mix and mastering happening in Bradford. “Shelter Of The Opaque is an M62 record; the mills, the rivers, the cities, the spaces have all bled into it.” The album is by turns more skeletal, more ambitious and more affecting than previous work, retaining some of Vanishing’s former berserk intensity and industrial grind, but as a single colour among many on a vivid new palette. Today the musical backing – which is as much informed by cold wave electronics, free jazz, Japanese ambient and discrete minimalism as it is by DIY noise – serves to aid Smith’s lyrics, not to obscure them, a seachange in process he puts down to “becoming more confident as a writer… more honest, more vulnerable. I was digging down deeper into personal subject matter that was rocking me about a bit more, searching for ideas with more emotional resonance.”
This invigorated attitude then spilled over into the act of sculpting the album as a whole: “I knew that if I was going to say these words with conviction then I’d have to create space around them, so the process to completion has been one of paring everything back, creating more and more space for them to breathe.” This technique was applied even to the way the vocals are delivered across tracks like Surgical, counterintuitively dampening down the emotional grain of his voice until the words alone, vibrating with restraint, were responsible for transmitting the intensity.