Asheville, North Carolina, rises out of the shrouded mist and green slopes of its surrounding landscape like a mysterious vanished city in a some forgotten folk lore, a Brigadoon of mountain glens and crumbling cliffbanks wavering out of the fog along twisting I-40 like some half-recalled recollection. Is it any wonder that such an enchanting topography is home to one of the most compelling music scenes in all of North America? Asheville is home not just to some of the brightest lights of bluegrass and old time music, as would be expected, but also plays host to consistently inventive noise, experimental, indie and metal scenes. For a young musician or even a casual underground music fan, this is one of the most fascinating cities in the country, on the very threshold of the sonic cutting edge.
The glorious violin stylings of Asheville’s Meghan Mulhearn should be familiar to fans of Neurot family psychedelic-sludge heroes US Christmas, as well as followers of her other numerous and ever-evolving projects (including Meghanz, Lunar Creature, Enoch, and Judas Horse). As Divine Circles, Mulhearn steps boldly out into the solo spotlight, armed with an array of effects and loops swirling delicately around her delicate, yearning vocals. If the mark of an innovator is making a familiar instrument sound freshly unfamiliar, then Ms. Mulhearn succeeds on all accounts here, as her violin’s boundaries are stretched and pulled like so much audio taffy, bent into new and astoundingly colorful shapes as these pieces magically unfold.
These carefully-constructed songs take their time to build, layering on more and more foundations of heady instrumentation until they’re all but swirling skyward in heedless, drunken rapture. Mulhearn’s vocal tone carries a hint of her Appalachian locale, a reminder of how the mountain folk tradition manifests in all kinds of music, even the most experimental. Oblivion Songs’ opening salvo, “Leave”, is the kind of haunting dirge that the Constellation family of artists specialize so expertly in, at least until Mulhearn’s plaintive wail punctuates the song with stirring ache and longing. The song continues to build to Reichian levels of instrumentation, the vocals pleading desperately beneath the maelstrom din. From there, we only climb upward. The soft percussive thunder of “Midwest” segues beautifully into the Gypsy-like stomp of “The Prayer”, where keening distorted guitars and rumbling drums crashingly enter the fray to underline proceedings with a nearly post-rock fury. This is the album’s midpoint crescendo, all sweeping menace and catharsis.
Oblivion Songs takes a welcome turn towards the ethereal and sublime with “Ingenue”, which carries a hint of Nico-fronted Velvet Underground in its churning DNA. From here, we reluctantly close on “Hymn”, where the genetic lineage of lilting Lomax-era ballads and stomps figures most prominently. Gorgeously stacked harmonies of the most heartbreaking hue end this all-too-brief collection on a sadly lingering note of bittersweet resignation, leaving one only craving more rewards.
Though this year is very young indeed, if Oblivion Songs is any hint of what we have in store for the coming 2014 season, then it’s going to be a very memorable year, indeed. Mulhearn has crafted a truly impressive, genre-defying statement here, and it’ll be more than thrilling to see where her musical travels take her next. (Zachary Corsa)