Days becoming longer. Winter getting warmer. Plants spawning from the seeds of their ancestors. Nature in all her cyclical inevitability. It has even been said that human-made events are subject to the same – the economist Edward Dewey claimed that ‘everything that has been studied has been found to have cycles present,’ and doubtless many highly paid people try to predict – for example – when the next economic slump will hit.
When considering cyclical inevitability, one could adopt a positive mindset focused on new opportunities, or a negative one focused on the futility of effort. With its title alone, From Ashes Comes the Day offers us the former. The order of the words is vital – its poetic phrasing ending with the impression of a fresh start (which ‘The Day Comes From Ashes’ would not). Even on the cover we see a ‘trend’ line rising from the gloom to the cloud-like surface.
In the music, however, this sanguinity is harder to trace.
Split into two lengthy tracks, this EP marries the differing yet harmonious musicianship of Drophead, a Montreal-based solo project of percussion, guitars and field recordings, and Silent Land Time Machine, another one-man outfit this time based in Austin whose previous releases have demonstrated experimental viola playing and vocalising. These instruments blend so seamlessly as to render the provenance of many sounds on this record hard to discern – this lends the music an esoteric quality that enhances its allure. From the very start, a buzzing, glitchy drone is soon joined by a jagged trio of chords spat out by a guitar, while layers of feedback and (what sounds like) distorted viola rise to eventually smother everything. The combination is jarring but the delayed guitar is soporific, gently propelling the movement onward. After four and a half minutes the passage surprisingly withdraws, making way for a languid middle third where layers of viola and guitar lean dispirited on each other’s shoulders. Calm has now entered, but will not linger.
There is an undulating dynamism through the record; we are guided through persistently choppy but never raging waters. Despite this appearance of relative calm, however, a spectral presence lurks below, occasionally rising to either breach the surface in a squall of feedback or linger just beneath in the surreptitious vocalising of SLTM’s Jonathan Slade – be it the diaphanous choral section in the final third of “I” or the menace-laden breathing through the start of “II”. There is also a sense of momentum running throughout, despite the absence of drums or percussion. Drophead’s Eric Craven (who also drums in the Constellation outfit HRSTA) instead uses his percussive proficiency to conjure rhythm from the guitar, making effective use of varied strokes and picking techniques as well as delay. While much drone and more experimental post-rock can feel meandering, From Ashes Comes the Day lumbers forward with a sense of direction, of grim purpose. The music is constantly scavenging further afield, compounding the EP’s cyclical theme.
It is hard to ignore the shadows of Constellation cousins or guitar-based drone artists such as Thisquietarmy looming over this record, but the music does succeed in carving a small niche for itself with its understated and perpetually writhing delivery. However, while the record’s theme is clear enough, the artists seem less assured in how to present it, and a slight mismatch in message results. Lacking coherent direction, I found myself simply ruminating on the cycle we are currently all witnessing: Plants withering from the cold winds. Summer getting colder. Days becoming shorter. We may feel unsettled for now, but warmth will come again. (Chris Redfearn)