Releasing two full length albums mere months from each other, Colin Andrew Sheffield has been especially active in 2023. Considering his previous Repair Me Now dates back to 2018, it is a veritable flurry of activity. However, this is not a case where Don't Ever Let Me Know and Images seem like a double album split into two separate works, but both are thematically and structurally different from one another, even if both clearly showcase his approach of mangling samples and recordings into entirely different creations.
Simply looking at the song lists, the difference between these two records is clear: Don't Ever Let Me Know is two side-long pieces, while Images is a suite of eight more conventionally timed songs. The underlying models are different, also, with the former specifically drawing from recordings from or about his (and his father's) hometown of El Paso, Texas, and the latter exclusively sourced from jazz records. As expected, none of these recordings are at all apparent, but there seems to be a sense of nostalgia imbued into the album conveyed abstractly.
"Don't Ever Let Me Know (Charms)" takes up the first half of the LP, consisting of loops of dissolving music, open resonate spaces, and bizarrely treated frequencies. Density builds and there is a sense of speed throughout, as he swaps out musical loops for harsher, digital sounds. There is definitely pre-recorded music used as some of the source material, but Sheffield sculpts it into something entirely different.
On the other side, "Don't Ever Let Me Know (Bliss)" is more polarized in sound, blending lush, melodic layers and buzz saw-like noise passages. It can be oddly pleasant at times, especially considering sections sound like a dungeon-y creak or wet, noisy crunching. There is a distinct combination of quieter, reflective sections and harsher swells, with his careful manipulation of delays and feedback bringing things just to the point of chaos but never crossing that threshold.
Images, besides having a more traditional "album" structure, also is unique in that it is drawn entirely from jazz samples. This carries over to the cover art, which could be an homage to vintage ECM or Windham Hill designs, but I may be reading entirely too much into that. Another unique facet here is that in this case, some of the actual sounds he utilizes are recognizable, at least as far as the instruments sampled, but maybe not the actual recordings per se.
"Crescent," for example, is a metallic resonance that eventually comes into focus as the clattering of cymbals, and processed horns eventually rise into the mix later on. "Song No. 2" could almost be a continuation, as a swarm of cymbals set the stage for a wobbling tone to take the focus. There is obviously music in here somewhere, but it is anything but obvious where it was sourced from, and the whole things ends in this beautiful interstellar drift at the end. That drift and use of melody is also notable throughout "Daylight," but in this case blended with sputtering, elongated delays and what sounds like a plucked sitar.
Other pieces are less apparent in their pre-recorded music pedigree. Metallic reverb drenched noises open "Images," leading to a shimmering, aquatic sense. Subtle melodies are weaved within, but they are more subtle here. "Embers" leads off with Sheffield morphing what sounds like a snare drum roll into a swarm of locusts, and the abstract tones that appear feature a bit more bass than what precedes it. "Silhouette" is a fitting name for a piece that leads off with a shadowy dark hum and turns almost symphonic with Sheffield reshaping the recordings into something heavily cinematic overall. It is only towards the end that a decipherable sound, in this case heavily processed horns, actually comes into focus.
It is clear that Sheffield uses some similar techniques on both Don't Ever Let Me Know and Images, but the two records are entirely different, and not just because of their structures. I personally felt a bit more nostalgia and emotion pervading throughout Don't Ever Let Me Know, and Images seemingly more the product of exploration and a focus on pure sound. However, given the intentionally abstract nature of his approach, I could be reading them entirely wrong. This is irrelevant, of course, because both records stand strong as purely sonic endeavors that of course raise questions and curiosity of their pedigree, but remain captivating solely on their own qualities divorced of any concepts.