Back in 2006, Leafcutter John recorded a beguiling album called The Forest and the Sea, that turned out to be my favorite album of that year. I wasn’t writing for anyone back then, but this is my chance to make up for it. Resurrection is a well-chosen title, as in one sense this is the artist’s first album since then; 2010’s live disc Tunis came and went, receiving scant attention. Not that the man himself has been idle. Perhaps best known as the electronic wing of Polar Bear, the artist has spent the intervening years touring and writing scores. But I, for one, have missed his solo work.
The filmic tug was apparent even in 2006, as The Forest and the Sea told a very unusual tale though even more unusual instrumentation. Its indirect nature – a linear tale shared through sound and metaphor – is the reason it holds up well today. There’s no such story in Resurrection, although there is a story. Leafcutter John was inspired by aerial shots of the 2011 Japanese tsunami, and subsequently imitated the process in his production, “scraping and smearing away elements, weathering, piling up and re-ordering them.” In the same way as the areas affected by the tsunami were physically and emotionally altered, re-fused in a sometimes-ordered, sometimes-jumbled fashion, so are Leafcutter John’s compositions: sonically devastated and yet still intact.
This process lends Resurrection a parabolic sheen. If matter cannot be destroyed, it simply becomes another sort of matter, like ice, water and mist. Or as the oft-quoted funeral passage states, “We will not all die, but be changed; for this perishable body must put on imperishability” (1 Corinthians 15:53). What if sound were to operate the same way? Is it possible that sound cannot be destroyed, that sonic traces of every cry, every song, every thunderclap still exist somewhere in the ether, not as they once were, but changed?
While the title “Music Under the Water” seems to support this theory, a more overt representation can be found in “Gulps.” Water is present throughout the album, whether lapping at the shores (“Endless Wave”) or quietly bubbling (“I Know You Can”). “Gulps” goes to extremes, incorporating “7.1 billion layers of a recording of the North Sea, one for each human alive at the time of writing.” Go ahead, listen closely: one of those layers is yours. While it would be impossible for the home listener to separate these layers, we trust that they are all present, reflecting the old nugget (and Coke commercial), “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.”
Above a morass of tangled electronics, sullen drones, and organic contributions (clarinet, percussion, strings, bells), Leafcutter John sings in fragments, often a single word (“resurrection”), other times a phrase (“when the bough breaks”). His music exists in edges and echoes, knocked from its mooring, bobbing on the sea. But this same sea – the sea that devastated a nation only a few years ago – is also the source of regeneration, of resurrection. 71% of the earth is covered with water, and 50-60% of the human body is comprised of water. Deep calls to deep. Resurrection calls to something subliminal in the listener, holding out the promise of transformation. (Richard Allen)