As highlighted in our Fall Music Preview, To Run The Easting Down is one of the season’s loveliest releases, existing at the juncture of music, literature and art. Graced by Theodor Kittelsen’s evocative painting and accompanied by a fictional log detailing a doomed voyage, the album makes an impression before the button is clicked or the needle is lowered (LPs are due in November). The title phrase refers to a mariner’s term for the difficult journey through the Southern Ocean, where “it is all one ocean.” The track titles refer to Ulysses (“Squarepushers”), Kittelsen (“Svartedauen”) and the earthen mounds portrayed in the cover art (“Sidhe”), where the Aos Sí make their homes. Given such inspirations, one would expect the album to sound otherworldly, even fairy tale-esque; and it does.
At nearly 17 minutes, the opening “Squarepushers” is a perfect example of a long composition done right. The track takes its time to develop, adding nuance upon nuance until the listener is awash in memory and melody. It begins with a drone and a bell ~ foreboding and holiness combined. Fireflies seem to sparkle in the dark. In the third minute, Amanda Feery’s gorgeous, multi-tracked voice starts to sneak in on the evening mist. Petals unfold, opening their palms to the night. Three minutes later, she begins to hit the crystalline high notes; one can imagine sailors crashing on her shores. When the vocals diminish, other instruments rush in like water on sand. The final, string-laced minutes are well worth the wait.
While the other tracks never match this high level, they don’t need to; this is an album of moods, and they continue to build on what has come before. Both Feery and Tanner play piano, and one can hear their interaction on the twinkling “Sidhe”, whose first half sounds like the lighter side of the fairy tale: the enchanted forest, the benign, magical creature; and whose second sounds like the first steps into the darkness. And closer “Svartedauen” allows for just a tiny bit of dissonance, a nod to the painter’s mysterious side; bells toll for lost souls, while sluggish drones approach like the Aos Sí. To catch their attention may not be the best idea. This time when the strings approach, it is to offer comfort and consolation: the hand around the child’s shoulder, reassuring her that everything will be okay.
Those who pre-order the vinyl (due November 1) will also receive the digital bonus track, “Sybelline”, inspired by the oracles of yore. But one need not consult an oracle to predict that fans of meditative music will find this album to be an essential purchase. In running the easting down, these sailors know they may be lost; but oh, the sights they have seen along the way. (Richard Allen)