Equally poignant and playful, it is an absolutely impeccable collection of vignettes, sketches, & interludes
– Stationary Travels
Listening to Nathan Shubert’s When You Take Off Your Shoes, what’s immediately striking is the air, the quiet vastness, and the transportive power of what feel like intimate duets between a piano and the space around it.
Field recordings, subtle electronics, and artful mixing techniques add a surrealist, displacement-as-place quality throughout. On the indie-baroque A Letter, the listener feels as though they’re standing outside the house of somebody practicing piano, before walking inside to share the interior space. Clacks, rumbles, and the breath of the room carry the imagination upwards from the piano, into a dreamlike, subjective, and meditative environment that is at once intimate and abstracted.
This is a sonic landscape Shubert began exploring on 2017’s Folds, and in many ways When You Take Off Your Shoes is Folds, part 2. Shubert began work on the follow-up the very evening after he finished Folds. There are some entirely new ideas, but in many ways this is a continuation and a deeper exploration of his core ideas and sonic obsessions, with the benefit of a significantly longer timeline to work with.
Although the writing period involved significant personal upheaval and tumultuous life changes, the pieces themselves aren’t tied to specific subjects or situations. Rather, they move through a range of emotions and offer vast material for listener subjectivity. Gathering field recordings proved to be a meditative process for Shubert, and one that became symbiotic with his composing. Collected over the course of a year and a half, sounds from New York City, Weaverville, North Carolina, Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas, Lake Santeetlah in North Carolina, and Portland, Oregon find a new home in this quietly arresting album.
On When You Take Off Your Shoes, Shubert continues to explore the compositional device of interwoven, strict alternation between left and right hands, as well the extended technique of using thick felt dampening to bring out the physical aspects and dreamlike resonances from the piano. However, these new pieces use less Steve Reich-ian repetition, focussing instead on modal harmonies, subtle modulations and diminished chords that owe more to early classicists like Bach. Touches of violin, cello, and clarinet add to the gently shifting tonality and melodic beauty. Outliers in terms of production choices, the short pieces Langelandsbælt and Muir employ a Juno 6 and an old Casio SK1 through a host of effects pedals to create densely textured, immersive tone baths that evoke choral music from Saturn while somehow remaining true to the overall mood of the album.
Most of When You Take Off Your Shoes was recorded by Joseph Hirabayashi (Jo Passed) at KW Studios, with additional layers of piano—as well as the entirety of the track Öresund—recorded at Nathan’s home studio.
When You Take Off Your Shoes contains the entire arc of Shubert entering a tumultuous phase, working through it, and finally coming to rest and acceptance. It was a period in which Shubert wrote nearly 60 pieces, eventually trimming down to a cohesive, unified work that clocks in just under 40 minutes. This is very immediate and very present music, and the composer’s finest work to date.
Marking the release of When You Take Off Your Shoes Nathan Shubert is touring Western Europe surrounding Piano Day, with dates in Sweden, England, Germany, and The Netherlands.