Wrekmeister Harmonies – The Alone Rush (Thrill Jockey Records, 13 April 2018)
As you may recall, Wrekmeister Harmonies hit our Top 15 of 2015 List with their enormously epic outing Night of Your Ascension, with its dozens of contributors and guest stars. Since that time, the eclectic collective has been distilled down to just the duo of founder JR Robinson and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Esther Shaw (the same pair who toured under the Wrekmeister name following that album, performing half of a set alone and the other half with Bell Witch as their backing band).
Also since that time, these two people have dealt with a variety of hardships and sorrows, culminating in a relocation from Chicago to Astoria, Oregon — and a lengthy period spent healing (mentally and emotionally) as well as composing, which Robinson referred to as a “cult like affair, just the two of us, thinking the similar thoughts and working them out with hours and hours of conversation, totally alone.”
The result was The Alone Rush, released last month, in which only Robinson and Shaw perform, along with drums by Thor Harris.
These six songs are essentially a mostly-continuous forty-seven minute soliloquy, an introspection and meditation on the concepts of life and death, pain, grief, and loss. Arrangements are often sparse, mostly gentle acoustic guitar and mournful violin, soft drumming in the background, and a repeated echoey piano motif interwoven throughout.
Robinson‘s singing here is very raw, strong though just on the verge of being emotional — sort of in the Murphy/Eldritch/Hussey/Curtis ballpark: a very prosaic, dry and quasi-melodic style of recitation. And every so often Shaw will fill in the gaps with wordless angelic intonations (plus the titular scream almost halfway through “Behold! The Final Scream.”
The first several tracks deal with pain and sickness and fear and uncertainty, though all of this reaches a climax in the penultimate “Forgive Yourself and Let Go.” While the fourteen-minute opus starts off very gently and timidly, with violin and tinkly keyboards, soft and unassuming vocals; a harsh wind soon sweeps through carrying with it snippets of conversation and laughter, bursts of clarinet (or perhaps sax), all in a general state of confusion and disarray. This gradually and imperceptibly starts to build more and more, the voices replaced by layers of keyboards and drums, as the piece becomes grander and grander, leading straight into the title track.
Here, celestial-sounding keyboards and violin are eventually joined by more vocals: still melancholy here but with at least some semblance of resolution. Likewise, the music feels like it’s about to sort-of-kind-of resolve, but fades away without ever quite getting there. Really, could there be a better metaphor for life than that?
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