One of the recurring pleasures of year’s end is to discover a new pair of releases from the Kitchen label. Kitchen doesn’t release a lot of albums, but it tends to do so just before the holiday season, which is perfect timing considering the physical and emotional nature of its output. This year the label has changed package format once again, preserving the “book” aspect of its presentation but expanding it to magazine form, along with tiny hanging hooks which can be used to display the releases like Christmas cards. Labels rarely do this – they tend to pick a format and stick with it, as it costs money to change equipment. But Kitchen continues to be interested in the whole package, which is why it continues to gain fans from around the world.
Pill-Oh may seem like a new act, but it’s actually an accomplished duo, playing together for the first time: Greek composers Hior Chronik and Zinovia Arvanitidi, whose shared experience in film and theatre work has led them to this point. The album possesses an expected cinematic flair, but with a magical edge, reflected in the 16 pages of enclosed photographs from Aëla Labbé. The cover is tricky to interpret: it seems to portray a reflection, looking down at a physical image of itself, the inversion of the expected. Or are we viewing the shot upside down? Given the nature of the other photographs, which reference everything from Woodstock to Houses of the Holy, we’re probably seeing it correctly.
This inversion finds form in the music as well. Magic is sprinkled throughout – the album begins with birds, shimmers, and bells, letting us know immediately what it’s about – but behind the piano and chimes hide multiple images of childhood. Cheerful nostalgia is present in the nursery mobile sounds, and simplicity in repeated patterns. But as the album progresses, more complexity seeps in, as if nudging an unseen subject toward adulthood. It’s a slow nudge at best, a begrudging necessity. The tentativeness reflects the mixed emotions of a parent who wants his or her children to grow up, but not too fast – and on some days, not at all. The music has a dreamlike, lilting quality, a soft-edged, protective veneer. Perhaps childhood is being protected here, but more likely it’s an image of childhood, an idealized memory, a vanishing mirror. With titles including “Stolen Moments”, “No Regrets”, “Memory”, and “Waking Up to a Dream”, the comparison seems apt. The most mature song, “Fields of Yellow Leaves”, implies seasonal loss, itself a metaphor for human maturity.
If only childhood were this benign. No bullies, no night terrors, no scraped knees. The healthiest of us are able to put such memories behind and remember the wonders we experienced then, even if we did not experience them as wonders when they were taking place. A glossed-over memory may seem untrue on the surface, but impressions are part of our makeup. Once we have convinced ourselves of these untruths, they become true, resisting all efforts to dislodge them or return them to their former state. This is the world created by Pill-Oh: one that may never have existed, but that becomes real once nostalgia grows tenacious enough to insist it was so. (Richard Allen)