I love to walk, however, my navigation skills are pretty much non-existent. Recently and after months of failing to get to a friend’s place without Google Maps reminding me of how far I am straying from my destination, I finally nailed it; I could get to his place without once getting lost. That was until I decided to listen to Lost Trail’s Holy Ring of Chalk. From walking purposefully towards my now very clear target, I found myself wandering aimlessly with no clear objective, slowly forgetting our arranged meeting time and preferring to take the longest route possible to make sure that the album ends prior to my arrival. It wasn’t the first time listening to Holy Ring of Chalk, but it was the first in these circumstances, and in this nocturnal serenity the album made much more sense, felt much more complete and breathed a whole new life into very familiar surroundings.
Those familiar with Zachary and Denny Corsa’s extensive back catalog know that there are some things that are always going to be there, mainly lots of field recordings and a lot of tape hiss. However, this is where the relationship to their previous works ends. For this is by far their most complete work to date as well as their most ambitious. The stop and go nature of each track on the album makes it very hard for the listener to accurately guess what’s going to happen next and in that way they’ve circumvented the biggest drawback of your run of the mill ambient album and that is predictability.
“There is nothing easier these days than to time stretch a sample to infinity and call it an ambient song. Ambient music is being made by the yard…I’ll have a hundred yards of ambient, please”
This came up in a conversation with a musician I think very highly of and it rings very true with regards to the vast majority of albums released under the genre. Pick the most convenient digital audio workstation, stretch those three guitar chords and toss a tonne of reverb over them seems to be the modus operandi for a vast number of artists, not Lost Trail though, not by a long shot.
The timing, frequency and nature of variations throughout the album is something to be marvelled at. That evangelist sample halfway through “The Falling Drift”, the beautiful pianos in “The Rushing Gust” or the banjos turned slowed down reverses on the interlude “The Wooded Dance” are all exquisite choices added to either cause or relieve tension, to keep the listener enthralled and wondering. Every section is masterfully crafted and to think that it was all improvised in the space of one night deserves even more praise.
The final two tracks on the album serve as the more shocking, noisier counterparts to the dreamier first half of the album, they both move with restraint until they explode with the last eight or so minutes of penultimate track “The Opaque Ritual” doing so in very Tim Hecker-esque fashion and in doing so they create a balance to the whole album, tie up loose ends and finish the album on a high.
Holy Ring of Chalk is an experience that should be fully appreciated, uninterrupted, listened to and savoured then replayed and dissected to come to reach even further appreciation. It might have taken them a while getting there, but with this they have perhaps created their Magnum Opus. (Mohammed Ashraf)