Collaborative projects are tricky beasts at the best of times. Just a few years ago, they would consist of two, three or more musicians sitting in a room together and hoping something would spark. More recently, there’s been no need to sit in the same room or, indeed, the same country, with discs and digital files flying around the globe. Alicia Merz, who records as Birds Of Passage, has been particularly prolific recently, with collaborations with Leonardo Rosato (on Dear and Unfamiliar) and I’ve Lost (I Was All You Are). Now comes a third, in the shape of Brother Sun, Sister Moon with Gareth Munday aka Roof Light.
There are many things to love about this album; the clever title, given that Munday’s in the UK and Merz is based in New Zealand, and the gorgeous cover artwork for starters. And it’s an album that opens beautifully with a trio of impressionistic guitar and vocal pieces, Merz’s vocals floating in a dream-like state above the delicate guitar work and occasional percussion. However, it’s the title track where the album hits a stumbling block with electronic beats and Rhodes-y swiggles. It’s a pleasing enough track, particularly if one is familiar with the work of Scott Herren but the context feels all wrong, like sticking a Prefuse 73 track in the middle of a Vashti Bunyan record. Normal service is resumed on the next track, but the possibility that those beats will come crashing back in is never far away.
It’s not necessarily the beats themselves that are the problem, after all the likes of Bibio have managed to straddle the worlds of electronica and folky introspection with ease. It’s just that the moods here are too different, and the distance between Merz’s haunting vocal pieces and Munday’s beat-centred tracks is just too great – and if these lines are so obvious it no longer sounds like a collaboration, just two different artists trying to squeeze contrasting pieces into the same space. It’s not until track 9, “All You Need”, that anything starts to gel between the two and this sounds like an out-take from My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. But that’s about as close as they get; closing the album with two remixes suggests that Brother Sun, Sister Moon needed an extra pair of hands to make this collaboration work.
Although BS, SM doesn’t succeed as a coherent work, it does contain a good half-dozen songs that happily stand alone, most of which are dominated by Alicia Merz. If you are a Birds of Passage fan, a bit of judicious track selection provides a fine new work of EP length. It’s wrong to assume that the weaker tracks are just the work of Munday alone, this is a work under a new group name after all, but it does feel as if the Merz is soaring at the moment and it’s his contribution that shackles the project to the ground. To keep with the avian theme, Brother Sun, Sister Moon is the proverbial curate’s egg – it’s good in places. (Jeremy Bye)