The title of Shūnya’s latest album is explained by the dedication: “for my dad who passed and for my son who entered.” A highly personal album, Birth & Death comes across as tender and life-affirming, landing much more on the birth side of the equation. At the same time, the album hints at the cyclical nature of life, and expresses gratitude for all creation.
Birth & Death also contains more music boxes and glockenspiels than we can recall in recent memory. These instruments lend themselves well to positive feelings; when combined with warm electronic beats and occasional female vocals, they wrap the listener in a blanket of sweetness. Extra sounds suggest household implements such as a faucet, a typewriter, a can opener, a spinning jar top, or a baby’s plastic mobile, while Bollywood sounds come into play on “Kyoto Foothills” and “The Unmanifested Consciousness Bliss Being Awareness.” A child laughs in “Raindrops” while shaking a paint can and saying something like “pizza”. Nisha sings, “read the pages of your favorite, favorite book.” Despite deep loss, the artist’s world remains benign.
The mastering is pristine as can be. The sounds virtually leap from the speakers, their placement as tidy as a librarian’s nook. On “Miniature Cosmos”, each water sound is assigned its own speaker. On “Lost in the woods…again”, the sounds are truncated, as if their neighbors have been erased on a reel-to-reel. On the closing remix of “Unmanifested”, backwards masking reverses the arrow of death back to birth. By refusing to end the album with “Cloudifying” and “Death” (sprightly tracks despite their titles, with devotional signing on the latter), Shūnya circles his ampersand. The end is not the end. (Richard Allen)