Writings about Music
If you're in a hurry go elsewhere. If you're looking for something very expected, look elsewhere, too. Some degree of patience will be required, but if you plan carefully, or at least catch it at the right moment by chance, your time will be rewarded amply.
I'm speaking of a new release from textura, the internationally renowned music publication based in Canada that fearlessly reviews new music amounting to practically a new review each day of the year. Textura regards the world's most famous labels and newcomers equally, something rare beyond rare in an over-commercialized world often characterized by feeble intellectual curiosity and insight embracing relentless conformity.
This is the fourth release from textura, something done occasionally along with the prodigious outpouring of reviews.
Listening to the third track of Swallowed By the Sky, one imagines the last surviving inhabitants of earth leaving on a spacecraft while glancing backwards at our planet fading gradually out of view. You see, the music seems to suggest, we may, in fact, be too late to save earth, and this might well be the only way we survive in any form, searching for a new planet while sustained on crafts and whatever manmade space dwellings there might also be when we've reached that tipping point.
But one must not only examine the third track of this album. Indeed, the music possesses a finely tuned synergy, one work preparing for and blending seamlessly into the next, rendering the first and second tracks equally essential and riveting in terms of a whole and unified Being.
Symphonic in scope and also in sheer sound this music is, including powerful pedal points and glimpses of melodies and rhythms from the Eastern and Western hemispheres, all adding up to an appreciation of our planet's myriad cultures and creatures and how imperiled we all are due to complacent mistreatment of the earth's land, water and air.
So appropriate the theme of this album being Joni Mitchell, who composed and recorded some of our most moving admonitions to preserving life on earth without reckless diminution of quality in songs like "Woodstock" and "Big Yellow Taxi".
This is certainly music with a broader, more philosophical perspective than most we are accustomed to. The opening track sounds like a slowly melting glacier that has survived for millions of years only to now be threatened.
Swallowed By the Sky seems to emanate not from humans, but from the earth itself, telling us to wake up and treat it like what it is - something living with a soul. Whether it's the soul of God or the soul of the universal elements of air, water, earth and ether, the stuff of which we're made, doesn't really matter. All that may be sorted out much later.
I say we heed Joni's admonitions echoed by the music assembled here. It's the cool thing to do let alone the right thing.
Listening to this album while driving through a kaleidoscope of rich and poor Los Angeles neighborhoods, it felt like Thornton Wilder's Our Town, trying to talk to people who could not hear or see us because we were no longer there, it being too late. And when one car carried persons who must have come from a theatrical production because their skin was bright white and they looked like Hollywood aliens, this echoed my impressions of the third track being about leaving earth for another habitat.
Noteworthy how music I suppose might be inadequately classified as "ambient" - a category I have rarely listened to - has marked connections to the avant-garde music of John Cage, Morton Feldman and others, together with the opening Alap section of Indian ragas. Late-Romantic European music and Neo-Romantic twentieth century music is not my field of expertise, but such linkages are readily apparent, too.
One final note: The album cover is about as lovely as you'll ever see, worthy of the unsurpassed beauty and grandeur of Canada, something I was fortunate to witness myself one unforgettable summer spent in the Canadian Rockies during my teenage years.
- Michael Robinson, August 2019, Los Angeles
© 2019 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).