Previously based in Chicago, Steve Fors has build a small, but strong discography first as half of the duo the Golden Sores, and then on his own as Aeronaut. Now based in Switzerland, It's Nothing, but Still is his first full length solo work under his own name. It certainly feels like a new album, but traces of his previous projects can be heard, which is for the best. Lush with both beauty and darkness, it is nuanced and fascinating.
The six distinct pieces that comprise It's Nothing, but Still follow similar structures: mostly leading off with field recordings, Fors then weaves in dense layers of electronic and acoustic sound that build in intensity and complexity. Even though there may be structural similarity, each piece stands out as unique. A piece such as the opener, "(Good Enough) For Now," begins with wet crunching amidst rain and insects before a swelling passage of cello gives the piece an uneasy sense of inertia. To this, he blends in fragments of conversations and the occasional harsher, wobbling bit of noise, all the while continuing to expand upon the droning tonal elements.
There are some similarities in "Unsound Structures," with the use of bowed cello, but instead everything has a bit of a darker hue. The electronics are bleaker, the cello has a greater sense of menace, and its abrupt concluding section makes for a perfect release of tension. "Lead into Aether" features Fors transitioning from light into dark within the same piece: gentle electronic tones are arranged tightly, with some nice panning effects to give depth. However, he slowly increases distortion to the mix, ending the piece on a shrill, feedback heavy note that significantly contrasts the peace from which it began.
There are pieces in which Fors simplifies the mix and instead creates things that are more aligned with conventional song structures. For "It's Nothing, but Still," he transitions from field recordings into pure piano, with fuzzy, distorted electronics tastefully worked in to serve as a countermelody. What resembles processed operatic vocals are added in throughout, resulting in a rather beautiful song-like structure. The concluding "The Way to Heaven" is similarly sparse in its construction: the recording of a train, a hovering melody, and a bit of low end punch come together as a perfectly unified piece of music.
Part of the impetus for It's Nothing, but Still is a chronic lung condition that Fors suffers from, and it is hard to not hear the use of slow, heavy cello swells throughout much of this record as a reflection of that. Heavy, deliberate, and a bit unsettling, the parallel to labored breathing is hard to ignore. Even with this bleak element though, there is a lot of beauty in this record as well, and the pairing of bleak and hopeful is perfect.