Any disappointment at the news that the elaborately packaged Revisionist album has been pushed back to 2015 is tempered by the appearance of two new EPs from William Ryan Fritch. While they are available separately, they are closely related to each other and also represent the latest installments of the Leave Me Sessions subscription series.
Fritch has had, by any estimate of the imagination, an excellent year. In addition to this ten-album opus, he recently collaborated with Jon Mueller on the amazing Death Blues project. Heavy/Empty provides a perfect opportunity to experience more of his personal vision. Once again, the array of instruments is akin to that of an orchestra: French horn, flute, clarinet, guitar, harp, strings, synth and percussion. The overall timbre lies between soaring melody and experimental crunch. Dramatic is the key word, as the instruments swoop and soar, attack and disperse, relenting only in brief phases on Heavy and stepping back to make room for vocals on Empty. It’s clear that Fritch is drawn to each world.
The titles and cover art are open to interpretation. “Heavy” and “empty” seem like two descriptors of the human condition, represented by the darker color palette. The outstretched hands of each cover seem to represent yearning; the first implies individual spirituality, the second communal despair. Add the titles – “False Substance”, “Aimless Dreams” – and the association is complete. In timbre, title and context, Fritch seems a perfect match for films such as Baraka and Samsara. The world is suffering a deep malaise. Is there hope? Or is every effort like Ecclesiastes’ “chasing the wind”?
Fritch’s prodigious output is evidence that he is pouring his heart into his work, and by extension, into a deeper philosophy. A world music vibe can be gleaned in all of his works, subdued yet ever-present; his score to The Waiting Room addressed modern alienation in a manner that was didactic without disillusionment. Given the opportunity to expound on Empty, he sings, “Tend to the one you wish to grow,” as compact an admonition as one will find anywhere. When “Tend”s orchestral magnificence blooms, it demonstrates a possible, positive future. But it’s not all sunshine and roses. “How far will we bend to make ends meet?” he sings on “A Dying Trade”. “There’s no fleeting, intangible thing that will make this dry riverbed flow.” We remember that there are places in which few flowers bloom. It’s impossible not to react: we do so with indifference, with repellence, or with sympathy. Heavy causes us to feel; Empty challenges us to think. But what will we do with this internal churning? (Richard Allen)