Posts Tagged ‘Zola Jesus’

Gizeh Records – GZH68 – 2nd September 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Richard Knox’s musical career is marked by works which are ponderous and atmospheric. Howeevr, his latest venture in colaboration with Claire Brentnall, is distinguished by a leaning toward material which feels more focused, compositionally, and more direct. It’s all relative, of course, and Mirror Breathing is, as the title implies, a work which is hazy, misty, the songs grasping, just for a second, at the ephemeral and reflecting the moments back, refracted and rarefied. Following on from debut album Contour Lines (2014) and 2015’s Violet EP, Mirror Breathing marks a step further into dark pop territory, although dark is indeed the operative word here, and it’s clear that in Brentnall he’s found the perfect collaborator: a person with not only an amazing voice, but an equal understanding of what it takes to forge ponderous, nuanced, atmospheric music. It’s not a matter of drawing out which each brings to each composition: Shield Patterns are built on collaboration and intuition, more of a case of a creative space emerging from a collective ‘third mind’ than the simple coming together to two musicians. 

The musical backing the pair create is atmospheric, and captures elements of light and shade which contrast magnificently; dark, rumbling low-end and industrial scrapes are tempered by ethereal ambient sounds of indeterminate origin. Claire Brentnall’s breathy vocal hangs, spine-shiveringly, over the drifting soundscape. The whole production is draped in a soft-focus feel, a mist which partially obscures the shapes and forms and renders them vague, unfamiliar and ambiguous. This ambiguity and unfamiliarity is an unsettling sensation, and while the graceful vocals superficially soothe, the emotional tension and overall sonic disquiet ultimately leave the listener pulled in different directions, peering into the shadows and wondering what lies just out of view. Arrhythmic percussion echoes in the dark, detonations which send shuddering vibrations through the ground. There’s a stark beauty to ‘This Temporary Place’ that calls to mind Zola Jesus, and elsewhere, dark industrial grumbling tremors contrast with the dreamy, otherworldly atmosphere of ‘Cerulean’.

Julia Kent is an artist who has a tendency to crop up in all sorts of places and with remarkable frequency: a respected solo artist in her own right, she is also a one-time member of Black Tape for a Blue Girl, as well as performing as a member of Rasputina and Anthony and the Johnson, he cello work on three of the tracks here adds further texture to the arrangements. Ultimately, though, it’s the balance of the instrumentation which really makes the album work: there’s a lot going on, with many incidental sounds blended in, but it’s seamless and no one aspect or sound dominates at any point.

Again returning to the connotations of the title, if the image of a steamed mirror can be read as a twist on the ‘smoke and mirrors’ metaphor, then there is an element of deception in the way the compositions seem sparse, but are in fact constructed from manifold layers which form strata of remarkable sonic depth and density. The drums may be distant-sounding and low in the mix, but they roll like thunder. In Claire’s vocals, you don’t hear every word, but you feel them. Sometimes she soars so high as to be barely audible to the human ear. Sometimes, it’s less about the actual lyrical content than the delivery, and her voice as of and in itself conveys more than mere words ever could. There’s a quality in Claire Brentnall’s voice which communicates on a subconscious, subliminal level. Her voice echoes in the recesses between the beats, drifts along, enveloped in the gauze-like textures, and occupies invisible spaces between the notes. Hers is a voice which is delicate, but by no means weak; yet the strength of her delivery lies in her ability to convey vulnerability.

From the alluring ‘Dusk’ to the dolorous chimes of ‘Blue Shutters’ and the sinister depths of ‘Balance & Scatter’ with its dark jazz intimations, via the tranquil and sedate(d)‘Sleepdrunk’, the songs conjure scenes of both anguish and ecstasy and often explore the pull of existing in both states simultaneously. Haunting, hypnotic and disquieting, Mirror Breathing is an impressive work that warrants time for thought and reflection.

Shield Patterns - Mirror Breathing

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Consouling Sounds – 18th March 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Oftentimes, I’ll set an album to play and, although listening to it, will find myself distracted by other things – email, Facebook, Twitter, whatever. We live in a world of information overload and we find ourselves multitasking – or distracted – constantly. It seemed fair to assume that I’d be able to get a few bits and bobs done while giving a first spin to Jozef Van Wissem’s latest offering. I was mistaken. But then. It’s not often I’m presented with an album that combines both elements of the avant-garde and the baroque, performed on the lute, an instrument I cannot help but associate with Elizabethan court poetry – not least of all Sir Thomas Wyatt, author of lyric verses ‘My Lute, Awake!’ and ‘Blame Not My Lute’.

Van Wiessem’s lute is very much awake, and there is no blame to be apportioned when examining his latest work, When Shall This Bright Day Begin. Am I uncomfortable with the absence of a question mark in the title? Yes, but that’s about all.

The Dutch composer has received no small degree of recognition for his lute compositions – which seems, on the face of it, a little odd. I mean, who plays the lute nowadays, apart from medieval revivalists, the kind of people who are heavily into LARP and all the rest? But listening to When Shall This Bright Day Begin, I find I’m doing nothing but listening. Van Wissem’s compositions and playing are magnificent, and utterly compelling. And it’s hard to imagine anything further removed from ‘Greensleeves’ or the Elizabethan court. The instrument may be ancient in its origins, but the eight tracks here aren’t steeped in historical reverence. Instead, Van Wissem conjured beautiful and timeless music.

If ‘To Lose Yourself is Eternal’ opens the album in what may be considered a fairly conventional, accessible, lutey way, the darkly warped swampy garage drone of ‘You Can’t Remain Here’ completely annihilates any sense of comfort or rapport that’s been established. Coming on like a ‘White Light’ era Swans track covered by Dr Mix and the Remix, it also drags in some fucked-up ketamine-slowed psychobilly leanings and imbue the song with a sense of absolute derangement. It’s genius.

By genius, I mean almost as genius as inviting Zola Jesus to feature on two of the right tracks. Another admirably idiosyncratic and utterly unique performer – not to mention a vocalist in possession of a stunning voice which is dramatic and stunningly powerful – she brings breathtaking dimensions to ‘Ruins’ with a suitably spellbinding performance that’s well-suited to the musical accompaniment.

The stark, dark country twang of scratchy strings, coupled with muffled samples, which make ‘The Purified Eye of the Soul is Placed in the Circle of the Eternal Sun’ and sort-of counterpart ‘On The Incomparable Nobility of Earthy Suffering’, pull hard on the attention.

Van Wissem shows admirable restraint, and contains the album to just eight tracks, with the sparse ‘Death of the Ego’ providing a delicate and understated conclusion which is enough to leave the listener sated. Bask in the glorious elegance, for this is music of the most magical kind.

Jozef Van Wissem

Jozef Van Wissem Online