Krakow, Poland label Preserved Sound kicks off the new season with a trio of cold weather albums from piano and percussion duo Tess Said So, piano and electronic composer North Side Drive and multi-instrumentalist Richard Youngs.
It’s hard not to notice the similarity between the titles of Tess Said So’s I Did That Tomorrow and Bing & Ruth’s recent release Tomorrow Was the Golden Age. Each communicates a sense of temporal disruption, priming listeners to expect surprises. And this is exactly what one gets on the debut album from Australian duo Tess Said So. When one first hears the words, “piano and percussion”, one thinks, “okay, probably a melody with a steady beat.” While this does occur on occasion, the duo is also playfully experimental, venturing into atonalism as early as their second track, which boasts its own oxymoronic title (“Sometimes Never”). What sets the duo apart from others in the field is the juxtaposition of elements within tracks, as well as between them; at 1:40 a bright melody tumbles from the dark keys like a happy child from slumber. A tug between dark and light ensues, like the tension between chores and play.
Not that the album is a difficult listen; it’s quite accessible, and contains many moments of pure uplift, in particular the bloom of lead track “Dew Point” and the sprightly, sleigh bell-like tones of “The Snap Beans Aren’t Salty”. On this piece, Will Larson’s bass drums provide depth, military snares lend the feel of a march and hi-hats provide a wink and a nod. Such pieces supply the good will that listeners will then apply to the more pensive and/or experimental tracks. The best of these is “Planted This to Imagine”, which begins with electronic, insect-like drones before giving way to stereo wanderings, footstep percussion and a few jarring notes from Rasa Daukus, one emanating from the inside of the piano. But every track is worth inclusion; this is the rare debut that arrives fully formed.
Irish composer North Side Drive writes that he wanted to release Snow//Sand//Sea when “the weather gets a little chillier”, and now he’s gotten his wish. The EP is his third, following a winter-themed solo piano EP and an orchestral debut. Together, they form an hour-long suite. On Snow//Sea//Sky, the artist returns to the early combination of piano, strings and occasional electronics with a trio of songs that sparkle like their titles. “Snow” is the clear highlight, at ten minutes twice as long as the other two songs combined. Setting the stage with a flurry of right-handed flakes, he soon adds the thick clouds of the left. As the electronics begin to surge, the storm gathers in full force. Yet just as swiftly, it pauses, allowing the sheen of sun on snow to be seen. It’s not quite time for the kids to come out, but soon. The concluding segment covers the electronics with playful tones reminiscent of mittens and sleds. A more placid “Sea” then leads to the slightly ominous “Sky”, graced by wind and falling temperatures, yet ending in bell tones and swift, soaring notes. We’d love to hear more weather-themed releases from the artist, who captures this season in a snow globe.
Richard Youngs needs no introduction, so we’re not going to introduce him. (I’ve always wanted to say that!) Suffice it to say that if one simply printed the titles of his hundred-plus releases, the list would be longer than this triple review. The “old man of music” is actually not that old, simply prolific. Red Alphabet in the Snow affords him the opportunity to share two side-long, multi-faceted works that incorporate over a dozen instruments, ranging from the easily recognizable (the ever-present 12-string guitar) to the seldom heard (cifteli, eftinette des vosges, swanee whistle). When instrumental, the timbre seems Appalachian in nature; but when Youngs sings wordlessly, we hear the Scottish accent in his voice, and then we hear it in his playing. This is a warm, around-the-hearth type album, the type that one can imagine a group improvising on a long winter night. Hearing all of these instruments at work, one wonders at the time necessary to coordinate such compositions, and the difficulty of performing them in concert. The snowiest-sounding segment stretches from 3:03 to 4:20 on Side B, but this is more an album that implies snow than scores it; the overall timbre is more warm than cold, more an escape from the weather than an experience of its physical presence. (Richard Allen)