Witness the slow evolution of Rauelsson, a Spanish-born folk artist who has expanded his tonal palette considerably over the course of a half-dozen albums. Fans will be happy to welcome his latest work; those who lacked interest earlier should take another listen. “But Rauelsson is a folk singer!” some will protest, recalling earlier works. Yes, but that’s not all he is.
Previous releases featured home-spun instrumentalism – always warm, always welcoming – and comforting, bilingual vocals. The first turning point for the artist arrived in 2010, as he recorded the album Réplica with Peter Broderick. While vocals featured prominently in the center of the two songs, the extended openings and closings provided evidence that Rauelsson was working on something even more sublime. The second turning point arrived in 2012, as he teamed with Peter Himmelman to compose the score to an independent documentary called From River to Sea. Now untethered from the realm of vocals (save for “Spring Bird”), the artist found a new and deeper emotion in his work.
This brings us to Vora, Rauelsson’s most accomplished album to date and the finest Sonic Pieces release in quite some time. The album is filled with surprises, beginning with a simple piano and developing into a full-blown work of modern composition, incorporating instruments including the marimba, harp, celeste, cello, viola, violin, dulcimer, pump organ and glockenspiel, along with field recordings. Vora is an eight-person affair, the work of a small orchestra. Nils Frahm is one of the players, but Rauelsson (Raul Pastor Medall) is clearly in charge.
The album is deeply personal, a reflection of inner feelings prompted by a relocation from Portland, Oregon back to coastal Spain. The liner notes mention “off-season tourist cities”, and the description seems apt. A melancholic streak runs throughout the recording, as if to reflect conflicting concepts of home. The first surprising bass note is struck at 1:49, eventually leading to a rising two-chord string motif straight out of The Matrix. More is going on than meets the ear. Midway through “Fluvial”, the doors open to the rest of the orchestra. But if these doors are simply nudged, “Split” throws them wide open, with a synthesized pulse and drums that would not be out of place in a Carpenter score.
The two vocal pieces are also surprising in that they don’t highlight the voice of Rauelsson (which is used as instrument only), but of the beguiling Laurel Simmons. “Hourglass I” includes the spoken / sung sentence, “Many times I turned around and went back to the shore, thinking, ‘I don’t want to be here when it turns upside down.” This plaintive wish reflects a spirit in disarray, stuck between two shores, for a short time at home on neither stretch of sand. On “Hourglass II”, the repeated refrain “I can write in the water, but only when it freezes” creates a further sense of alienation. (The full poem is contained in the liner notes.) Reminiscent of the writings of André Aciman, this pair of selections serves as a miniature version of a travel essay. Only with the sound of children on “Parasol” does a sense of homecoming begin to develop.
The album’s concluding piece, “Wave Out”, answers the opening track, “Wave In”, implying that the entire journey has been a single wave, carrying the composer home. And then back again this wave travels to the place once occupied, like a thought, like a memory, like a longing. This is not your only home. (Richard Allen)