Sanguine Futures is a Rorchach test of an album, an inkblot of sound from which different ears will intuit different tales. It may be a winter album edging toward the spring, a clouded mind coming into focus, a blurred photo becoming distinct. Some have heard darkness in its grooves, others light, others a spectrum. Even the cover illustration, which looks like geography, may be something else entirely. While sanguine typically means “cheerfully optimistic”, it can also mean ruddy – blood-toned and foreboding, like the video for “River Runs Like Jewels”. Seldom has the tone of an album rested so much in the ear of the beholder.
This is certainly not an album to play in the car. After a deceivingly light beginning filled with the sounds of a gentle brook, a sub-bass develops like a descending plane. Drivers may be fooled into pulling over instead of pressing Pause or Eject. A bitter wind blows through the middle of the track, accompanied by avalanche roars and the tolling of bells – a sound which will become more important as the album develops. The effect is claustrophobic. And yet to stop here would be to miss the importance of the album’s trajectory, to misidentify its motives, to assume rather than to name. A journey is taking place: torturous and slow, but a journey nevertheless. Every creak and crack is a pitfall along the way to an uncertain end.
As an art form, the drone is often mistaken as a solid sound, when it is more likely to be a sound in motion. Each hum is joined here by another like travelers accompanied by Sherpas. A maelstrom continues to gather in “The Northern Sky, Ablaze”, balanced by chimes and squeaks: earthbound sounds that tether the listener to the realm of the earth while leading them toward the transcendent state of travelers and monks. As the edges of the tracks bond together like snow crystals, it becomes apparent that the album is best heard as a suite. Only the diamond crackle between Side A and Side B separates the sound from the silence.
The loudest sounds are saved for the finale of “Sleep Like the Dead”: wave upon wave of distortion, drowning the electric guitar. Is this an awakening or a threat? Perhaps the interpretation is best left undefined. These minutes mark the album’s dangerous summit, the high, exposed peak from which one may gain either perspective or death. Radio interference implies that a message is trying to get through, but it is washed away in the static.
Just when all seems lost and indistinct, a melody emerges through the ether like the windborne sound of a distant choir. The skies begin to clear. Crickets begin to chirp. Children play in the distance. On “Methodist Bells”, a piano. Is sanity in sight? Has the traveler returned? Again, the interpretation is up to the listener. On the one hand, these lighter sounds imply return and recovery. Yet on the other, when one listens closely, one begins to notice that the children are not live, but looped – which leads to a more sinister suspicion, that this perceived freedom is only the suspension of one’s awareness of confines. The true answer is buried somewhere in the sonic ink. (Richard Allen)