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Breaking's New Ambient Ballads Offer Peace That's Handworn and Hard-Won

The New York composer and filmmaker's new EP 'Shell' offers three intimate and beautiful new songs.

by Colin Joyce
11 March 2019, 9:44am

Photo by Kyle Whittall

The music that the New York-based artist Austin Johnson has made over the last few years as Breaking has largely been gestural and abstract. Whether they're haphazardly scribbled beatwork or straight-up drones, the handful of releases on Breaking's Bandcamp feel open-hearted and slow. It's the sort of stuff that offers to you what you bring to it, ambience designed to give you space to work out whatever shit you need to as you sit in its gently stormy presence. It's been a little over a year since the last entry on the Breaking Bandcamp, but today Johnson is back with a three-song release called Shell that further delves into the cloistered inner travels the Breaking compositions often provoke.

Over email, Johnson explains the process that birthed these songs in predictably diffuse terms, emphasising that the songs are driven by feelings first. "I tend to spend more time trying to identify what it is in terms of mood, feel, and temperature it is I’m after and do my best to accentuate that," he says. "In the end i’d like my music to be a place you can go and feel a certain way for a while.“

What that means in the case of Shell is three songs that feel both airy and isolated. Johnson's voice, treated slightly, floats in this lilting monotone on the opener "All Coming Back." The song is gentle, and open, but there's something about its peacefulness that feels tenuous – as if all the pillowy reverb is insulation in the walls of a tiny shack somewhere in the wilderness, a desperate attempt to keep the cold out. "Callow" is built around a simple, but stuttered guitar figure, handworn and warm in a way that reminds me of Benoît Pioulard's lonelier recordings. Foxes in Fiction, another songwriter who knows the values of slowness and space, makes an appearance on the closer "Rave," which, contrary to its name, offers more of the quilted intimacy that drives the other two songs. It's painfully brief, clocking in at under ten minutes, but that runtime only increases the feeling of the music's fragility – as if Johnson's only just barely holding the rest of the world back.

It's available to listen in full below – and you can download the whole thing over at Breaking's Bandcamp. If you're left wanting more, which you probably will be, Johnson says that there's more Breaking stuff on the way as soon as this summer. So look out for that too.

This article originally appeared on Noisey US.