There aren’t many lonelier feelings in this world than trying to communicate a spiritual experience to someone and failing to convey the import of the message. To spend a moment or two of a hurried life passing along a particularly moving other moment or two, only to be met with a blank stare, confused laughter, or snorts of derision can lead only to retreat and isolation, a glacier of misunderstanding one slowly drifts away on, leaving only a whistling void between yourself and the other person, who now understands your life’s currents as little as you understand theirs. Too often people retreat in this moment, to never again try to discuss with that person why THIS means so much to THEM. And so a potential connection is severed forever.
So it is when discussing transformative moments through music, but here goes. Recently, my wife/bandmate and I took a much-needed retreat to a particularly-scenic section of the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina for a couple of days of light backpacking. Huddled close to our campfire and watching the sparks writhe and tumble over the flickering bed of flames, I was drowning in the unearthly ethereal drones of Natural Snow Buildings, a duo from rural France who have released a staggering amount of lengthy drone and folk explorations since the late nineties (much of it themselves in tiny and handmade editions), all while standing largely absent of the cutthroat jostling of any particular ‘scene’ or ‘trend’, rarely playing live or consenting to interviews. It seems less a sense of mystery with NSB (and by extension, their respective solo projects, TwinSisterMoon and Isengrind), than a simple method of existing, of creating music and art at their leisure and releasing it out into the world just as casually, thus letting go of what happens next and moving onto the next sonic frontier. Cultivating a sense of mysteriousness about yourself is nothing new in music, but such detachment from anything but the most basic, essential purity of creating music and sharing it with whomever takes the time to listen is more than merely antiquated or unique, its admirable.
I had long been a fan of Natural Snow Buildings, but often it takes a certain spiritual turning point in your life to make any artist really connect with you, to transcend mere enjoyment and become something special and deeply meaningful to your heart. In those mountains, beneath an impossibly black sky unhindered by light pollution, littered with a carpet of glimmering stars, I felt that smallness in the universe one only feels in absolute nature; later that night, through the tent flaps, I saw foxfire for the first time, that eerie luminescent glow that rises from certain fungus on the forest floor after falling from rotten logs and stumps. Everything was tinged with wonder, as if it had been arranged specifically for my personal sense of transcendence. In the midst of some shifting perspectives and sizable life changes of my own, this was heart-rending stuff, all soundtracked by pieces like “Moscow Signal” and “Sunbone”, songs that feel weightless, lighter-than-air, but hit with the force of the gentlest hammers. Sometimes life is cinematic, intentionally or not.
The music that partners (spouses?) Mehdi Ameziane and Solange Gularte produce often seems barely constrained by its borders, pushing against the frames of the music with feedback, with digital clipping, unable to be contained by simple technology. That sense of organic connection to the landscape, the surrounding environment, is something only a few other artists can achieve (Phil Elverum comes to mind). To consistently produce lengthy, compelling works on such a prolific level is truly astounding, to say the least. This is a band that doesn’t play by any remote sense of scene conventions, that thinks nothing of dropping seven-hour albums full of fifty-minute songs heavy on repetition and pure atmosphere. There’s a boldness and a sense of shunning of the unnecessary ephemera of being a modern musician that’s deeply admirable, and at a time when I’m striving to simplify my own involvement in the often facile, shallow world of scene politics and get back to the purity of simply creating, it’s also incredibly inspiring. Often it seems the stars align just right so that something insanely relevant artistically hits you with force when you most need to hear it. On that trip, at this time in my life, I needed this music. I believe that events and feelings conspire like that, to steer you onto a different path or reward you with a fresh perspective, only once or twice in a lifetime. Too often, its these small details that slip through the cracks of our days.
The repetition is lulling, hypnotic, like the best drone work, but there’s also moments of heartbreaking acoustic folk beauty in the otherworldly NSB catalogue. It’s that dichotomy, between these lustrous pop lullabies and the haunting, often jarring drone odysseys that makes Natural Snow Buildings stand out from so many in this realm. They remain as free of questions of genre as they do of questions of music scenes. The music is timeless in the way the best music is timeless, often evoking a sense of pagan and the supernatural, the mythic and folkloric, but also mining western culture in its reverence for horror film reverences and the occasional invoking of eerie Cold War imagery. What one discovers most from listening to these artists is the sound of two people creating their own world in the space between headphones, between the plucked notes and the eventual finished journey, and as much as Natural Snow Buildings draw from the varying cultures of the world outside their door, they seem mostly to listen to the voices locked within, creating the art they want to create, utterly free of expectation or chasing validation.
Being a likewise prolific musician, I’m often asked about the amount of music we release, and I’m often genuinely surprised that more people don’t understand the simple truth of the matter: this is what I love doing most in the world, so why wouldn’t I do it as much as possible? It’s easy to see this sentiment in Solange and Mehdi’s work, where the creation of sound seems to take on a sense of invocation, a conjured spell to ward off the darkness, or even perhaps to let it in. More than any other artist I’ve yet experienced, I think this band embraces what I mean when I say that, to me, a great album should be like the winding emotional journey of a novel, rather than a quick flip through an even quicker-discarded magazine, as most listeners seem to prefer in the age of streaming content. There’s clearly an endless drive to keep creating here, merely for the sake of doing so, and it seems to require a certain pace to keep up with all those ideas as they flow forth, a certain sense of scope. When an artist utilizes such scope to a full potential, beguiling magic results.
This is the basic truth of Natural Snow Buildings. With Medhi and Solange, you’re either entering a world to leave behind much of the one you’re in, or you’re allowing that immediate surrounding landscape to be fundamentally shifted and altered by what you’re hearing. Doesn’t matter if it’s during a bleary-eyed commute or a back-room break from the Best Buy warehouse or a hike in the mountains, this is a unique universe created by two people who don’t so much make music as craft towering topographies of sound. With much of the similar music released these days being fleeting and temporal in its limited pleasures, to be able to slow down, to dive in, to take time with this undiluted wealth of expression is a gift. Let’s hope they keep letting us visit that world, that we’re welcomed to listen in on what spells they’re casting in that little French town, and that it can continue to enhance and deepen what’s already bursting with meaning and splendor around us. That our own personal foxfires can glow to the sound of these drones and these strummed strings and plaintive voices. That’s all you can ask of any art, any music, let alone some of the best that’s being made. Not just to transport you, but to envelop you. (Zachary Corsa)
Natural Snow Buildings’ latest album, Terror’s Horns, was released September 1 on Ba Da Bing Records, and is available at fine retailers everywhere.