Earlier this year, we reviewed Joe Frawley‘s 13 Houses and the Mermaid, a mesmerizing excursion into the mysteries of looped memory and long-buried trauma. While A Hundred Years shares some of the aspects of the prior release – spoken word, a twisted narrative, a sense of detachment – the mood is much less dark. The subject matter has shifted from haunted house to Sleeping Beauty, but fortunately, Frawley has not jumped from Grimm to Disney. Instead, A Hundred Years occupies the same fairy tale world as Once Upon a Time: dangerous but not distressing. The literary quotations (Charles Perrault, Yasunari Kawabata and Dante Gabriel Rossetti) create a sense of safety. Then Frawley weaves a web of whisper, spoken word and song, and waits at the center for listeners to fall in.
While the album is not instrumental, the vocals are used mostly as texture. Impressions shift as the protagonist and her modern descendants speak: a woman with recurring dreams, another who seeks an interpreter. What would it be like to sleep for a hundred years? To sleep, perchance to dream; ay, there’s the rub. For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come? One muses over the fate of the woman on the cover of the CD tin. Is sleep the modern malaise? Are we all trapped in a dream, a shared hallucination? Is life itself but a dream, and if so, why are we not rowing merrily, merrily?
Frawley’s use of sources lends the project an appropriate disconnection. Sentences are sliced off at the ankles, piano melodies left half-formed. Birds fly over subdued quotations. Japanese speech is intertwined with violin and swirl. According to the artist, the album is “non-linear”, and can be played in any track order the listener may desire. The sounds roll around like marbles in a box; settling on a single interpretation is like trying to pin down water. And yet, by the end, a visible impression is created, like the evaporated residue of the sea. Frawley may not be the prince who wakes the beauty, but something better: the friend who never leaves her side. (Richard Allen)