Time for a small, but tasteful, insight into the complex working of CD distribution from the overlords at The Sponge to us hacks in the field. Using a system based on the pre-Sachnovarian Distribution Theory, Gunther Hannover's Asynchronous Dispersal Grid and Parlaban's Parabolic Table, PostLibyan sends us all an e-mail with a list of available material and asks "Waddya want from this lot?"
Poetry and science in perfect harmony, laydeez an' gennermen.
Young PostLibyan is attuned to my musical foibles and preferences; he knows full well that I have a well-developed taste for the stranger, more off-kilter offerings from today's artistes and supplies me with material. To this end, I now find myself being sucked down into the musical whirlpool of Montreal outfit Esmerine and their second album Aurora.
Esmerine's personnel have worked with and/or have been part of such experimental bands as Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Set Fire To Flames, the latter being responsible for one of my favourite albums of the last year or so (Telegraphs In Negative/Mouths Trapped In Static). Esmerine are actually a duo, namely Bruce Cawdron and Beckie Foon, who are responsible for the acoustic instruments (cello, marimba, drums, glockenspiel and piano, along with various bits of more straightforward percussion) on the album. Other occasional contributions on assorted instruments are made by Mike Moya, Harris Newman of Hrsta, Jessie Carrot, and Howard Bilerman.
Somewhere in the depth of a particularly enlightened film director's imagination is a yet unthought of and unrealised cinematic piece for which Aurora is the soundtrack. Dark as a Spanish Inquisitor's heart, the album kicks off with Quelques Mots Pleines D'Ombre (Some Words Full With Shade). "Full"? Bursting at the seams, more like. Brooding strings, much in the same vein as Set Fire To Flames' chilling, epic In Pre-light Isolate (for which Foon and Cawdry were doubtless mainly responsible), snake into the senses, although without the rather disturbing, captivating undertones of the SFTF track.
Histories Repeating As One Thousand Hearts Mend grows from cello phrasings into a romp of almost Middle Eastern proportions. Relentless at its denouement, Histories leaves the listener breathless as it paints a glorious, abstract picture in the mind's eye. I could not help to think of a high-speed camel ride throughout this piece. Superb.
Mados is a very short piece, featuring a two-handed arpeggio on cellos. Possibly the most ordinary cut on the album, it does, though, contribute to the sombre mood of the whole piece.
Why She Swallows Bullets And Stones (Burl Ives would, no doubt, have some convoluted explanation for this behaviour) features another arpeggio, this time in the form of a delicate opening on piano, whilst the strings of Foon and Cawdron fly over it majestically like the blackest crows on a deep winter landscape. More sonic references here to Esmerine's Set Fire To Flames connections, as what I can only assume is a heavily overdriven guitar scrapes beneath the mix. Almost painfully and unutterably beautiful, and one I'll revisit every December. This one cut is worth the price of admission.
Ebb Tide, Spring Tide, Neap Tide, Flood features bells and static at its commencement, re-awakening memories of Brian Eno's Here Come The Warm Jets. Some bass notes, either a piano or guitar, flirt around the edges as the piece progresses and add an almost indefinable element of gravitas before segueing into the sixth and final track, Le Rire De L'ange (The Laughter Of An Angel). Again employing marimbas, drums, and other percussion, this is, possibly, the most mainstream sounding track, although it's about as mainstream as Laurie Anderson in a particularly oddball mood. The listener could quite rightly expect either Robert Fripp's guitar or David Sylvian's voice to leech up from the mix at any point. Although musically monosyllabic, this track evokes formless emotions in me, and is over far too quickly.
Indeed, at forty minutes, the whole of Aurora flashes past before the mind can comprehend what's really going on. After my first listen, I actually said out loud "Album? It's only as long as a EP, surely?" It was only after checking the entire running time that I found that the CD was about twice as long as I thought. The old adage of time passing quickly when you're enjoying yourself was never more accurate.
I love this album for its dark passion and neo-classical joie de mort. There can be deep and true beauty in darkness, and Esmerine capture the essence of that beauty perfectly. So much so, in fact, that I'm now driven to tracking down their first album, If Only A Sweet Surrender To The Nights To Come Be True (not exactly a sharp and snappy title, but what the hell) to wallow in more of Cawdron and Foon's black delights.
I must add the caveat that this album may not be found to be palatable for everyone, but Aurora shines brightly, albeit all too briefly, for this listener. I implore fans of GBYE and SFTF to give it a listen, even if only to experience Why She Swallows Bullets And Stones.
Remarkable and grimly joyous.