This gorgeous year-end album would make a wonderful Christmas gift, so be sure to seek it out when it goes on sale this Sunday. Maps and Mazes is not only an exemplary album, but an another exquisitely packaged product from Time Released Sound. The label continues to go from strength to strength; the staff may not make a lot of money, but they certainly have a lot of fun.
Some may recognize the timbres of Polish composer / violinist Olga Wojciechowska, as she’s appeared on numerous albums we’ve covered at A Closer Listen. Maps and Mazes collects a series of works originally composed for film, theatre and dance. Amazingly, their disparate origins are obscured on this release, which flows beautifully as a single set. Credit the track listing, which finds exactly the right place for the violin and piano pieces, the gentle ambience and the moody scene setters. The decision to open and close with mournful brass is wise, as it unifies the project, providing it with defined brackets. It’s no coincidence that puzzle pieces are included in the artwork, as “Melting Into Unknown” was composed for the dance performance Puz/zle; the puzzle serves as a perfect metaphor for the track sequencing, as well as for the performer herself.
This attention to detail continues with the title. Maps and Mazes suggests both mystery and discovery: deep secrets and an invitation. Follow the map, and one may emerge intact. Visit the minotaur, but bring a ball of string. If Wojciechowska’s music could be summed up in a single word, it would be depth. Even after frequent plays, there’s always another layer beneath the surface, another surprise behind the door. At first, the horns of “The White Spaces” make the deepest impression; but eventually the wind chimes seep their way into the consciousness, followed by the soft electronic drone. “Primal Fear” seems dominated by bass and operatic voice, until the shimmers of static and glitch appear.
Wojciechowska hopes that this collection will be considered as a whole, rather than as the sum of its parts. The components ~ one track from Puz/zle, three from Genesis, two from Pluto, three from the film Avenida Corrientes, and one orphan ~ work like ingredients in a winter soup, melting, melding and blending, unveiling different spices at different times. In short, it all works. This being said, the album does lead up to an astonishing highlight (and its most direct track): the romantic, bittersweet “I’m Never Not Thinking About You.” Cushioned by gentle tracks to its fore and aft, the piece casts a warm glow over the rest of the album, which basks in its peaceful presence. Remove the track from its surroundings, and it’s still lovely; but the friendly company helps one to appreciate it all the more.
The artist has been building an impressive body of work over the past few years, and in a sense, Maps and Mazes is a coming out party. As humble composer enhancing larger productions with eloquent grace, Wojciechowska has been operating under the radar, but she deserves to be on a greater map. (Richard Allen)