It’s hard not to hear The Hidden as an elegy, given the imminent demise of J&C Tapes. This cassette is part of the final batch released by the 3-year-old label. Late last year, founder Steve Dewhurst sent a heartfelt letter to fans chronicling his recent (benign) tumor surgery along with other family illnesses. Our thoughts and prayers are with Steve and his family.
Looking at the cassette cover (“Naturephant,” credited to Craig Earp and Matt Bower), one thinks of darkness, and expects the music to be frightening. Instead, it comes across as mournful. A collaboration between Simon McCorry (Amonism) and Matt Bower (Wizards Tell Lies), the cassette combines chimes, cello, piano and electronics, landing somewhere between dark ambience and modern composition. As the ivories are especially non-linear, the listener remains off-guard: soothed by static frequencies, yet rattled by sudden, unpredictable notes. The cello is more pronounced, never fast, but measured, a recognizably musical voice rising above thick and foghorn drones, most clearly heard in the center of “Broken Shadows.” When the harmonic lines exit, the listener is left at the mercy of these shadows, yearning for the guide to return.
The 17-minute “There Are No Lullabies” is the closest the cassette comes to dark ambience, as the first 4 minutes lumber by in a morass of chain and chime. When the cello reappears ~ its first appearance since the midpoint of the prior track ~ its funereal pace calls to mind a medieval procession. These are not the shadows of monsters, but of mourning. The strings save their saddest song for those who lack words, overtaken by forces beyond their control. We fade in the face of such forces, offering only plaintive protest, or in this case, a muddled reflection in a polluted pool.
The artists were unaware of the status of the J&C owner or label when they recorded these pieces; their fittingness is simply an unhappy coincidence. But to send dark music into dark places is sometimes to make it light. The empathy of a painful score offers its own bittersweet relief. (Richard Allen)