Taking a page from the playbook of their Gizeh label mates FareWell Poetry (with whom they also share a couple members), Tomorrow We Sail enlists the aid of occultist, poet and historian Alexander Cummins for a single, stunning, 19-minute piece. In one sense, this comes as a complete surprise, as the band’s debut album For Those Who Caught the Sun in Flight seemed to be moving in the direction of harmonic lyricism; in another, it’s a natural continuation of the band’s earliest extended experiments, as well as proof that the family really is a collective, rather than a fixed roster.
It’s extremely difficult to pull off a spoken word piece, no less a track that extends for the length of an album side. In order for Tomorrow We Sail to succeed, every little thing had to go just right ~ and it did. It’s amazing to think that the track was recorded live in a single day. For Saturn to work, the poet’s voice had to be convincing, the lyrics had to resonate, and the music had to be dramatic to keep the listener’s interest throughout the running time. As it turns out, all three components build from beginning to end: the voice from weary intonation to saddened exhortation to impassioned plea; the lyrics from lists to prayers; the music from quietude to cacophony.
The track’s inspiration is the great god Saturn, “the heavy and leaden ruler of melancholy and sorrow”. Beginning with the names of Saturnine spirits, Cummins then proceeds through the hours of the night before turning his attention to liturgies and incantations. The music rises as each segment builds and recedes when it ends. Wordless voices act as intermediaries. Even in the early segments, one remains riveted to Cummins’ emotive voice; one thinks of Morgan Freeman proving that he can read a phone book and make it sound interesting. But as the piece progresses, one begins to gain a different perspective. This is not a collection of disparate texts; this is a desperate appeal.
The yearning drenches every note of the saddened strings; it permeates every piano line and haunts every harmonic moan. The watches of the night are too exhausting, and yet sleep does not come; the light of day is too raw to bear. The heart shrivels to black. Every other avenue has been exhausted. All that is left is Saturn, melancholic Saturn, difficult to rouse and even harder to entreat. And yet entreat Cummins does, a humble supplicant: Grant us solace from the shadow of your sorrows.
This release is for all who suffer from the fog of melancholy, the black dog of depression, the lingering, clutching darkness. Saturn is a Hail Mary of a prayer, words thrown into a vacuum in hopes that a god once worshipped might still exist, might not be incontinent, might still be merciful. The song is a window into darkness, but it still believes in the possibility of light. (Richard Allen)