With New Words for Old Wounds (and bonus EP Clean War), William Ryan Fritch‘s massive eleven album subscription series finally comes to an end. We’re sad, but not too sad, because we know that the artist will continue to record and release a generous amount of music. His soundtrack work alone should keep him busy for years to come.
Hats off to Lost Tribe Sound for supporting this venture. An eleven-album series backed by a label is nearly unprecedented. And it’s not just that; the presentation has been amazing, and they’ve saved the best for last. Even if fans are already too late to procure the limited Japanese side-stitched cover edition, there’s still a gorgeous gatefold edition on the market.
William Ryan Fritch’s music has always sounded large, and his work on the newest set is no exception. The orchestral instruments are mixed so cleanly and fully that they seem to be pushing against the inner walls of the speakers. While many artists say, “be sure to listen on a good pair of headphones”, this is an album for a good sound system. One need not increase the volume by much in order to feel fully immersed.
The series has included many fully-instrumental works and a few in which the vocal and instrumental tracks are equally balanced. If New Words for Old Wounds tips the balance in favor of the vocal, it’s acceptable, as this is the concluding installment and as such is intended to make a statement. From the title alone, one intuits that the work will focus on redefinition, especially when it comes to the reevaluation of past hurts. While time does not heal all wounds, it can lead to gentle reassessment, and in graceful cases to thanksgiving. Our wounds can provide perspective, and our experience can be used to salve other people’s wounds. The soothing, soaring nature of the music offers a sense of uplift. The album opens with wordless vocals and closes in pure instrumentation, providing a gentle launch and landing. The first piece asks, “Am I awake?”, while the last passes beyond question and conversation.
The lyrics are so well-integrated that they seem part of the music, rather than an imposition. Matching vocal and instrumental timbres, Fritch provides a smooth patina, butter melted into bread. From time to time, a phrase bubbles above the surface, beginning with the ancient question, “Where has my father gone?”, a clear reference to the crucifixion. “I want all your imperfect lives,” he sings on “Entirety”, while the lyrics of “Hold Tight” (featuring Ceschi) speak of “finding God”. Yet there’s much room for impression, and many of these tracks contain such long stretches of instrumentation that it would be unfair to call them singer-songwriter works. Fritch’s strength is in the way he places pillows of strings over beds of percussion and layers choral lines like blankets. His yearning tones are balanced by something mysterious and holy and just out of reach: an elusive truth, the hem of a garment.
The album’s most universally appealing piece is “Floats On” (featuring Powerdove). The song has the feel of a lullaby, with a lilting tempo, soft glockenspiel and the comforting line, sweet, sweet time floats by on melodies of song. One need not be familiar with Fritch’s body of work to be attracted to such a lyric, which speaks universal truth. For two years, we’ve been floating by on these melodies, suspending time and trouble for the length of the platters. If the eternal questions remain unanswered, at least we’ve had this respite, this encouragement.
If New Words for Old Wounds is the culmination of the Leave Me Sessions, then Clean War is the coda. But that’s a mighty big if, because the latter EP (bundled with deluxe editions of the former and available as a separate digital download in June) also operates as a commentary on the current socio-political environment. In much the same way as Captain America: Civil War is a timely reflection of its age, Clean War is a byproduct of rampant infighting among parties and pundits. Fritch is disturbed by the climate, as are most Americans and the bulk of the world. But as much as we might write about such lyrics, our focus remains on the instrumental; and as much as artists feel compelled to speak through such lyrics, our preference for the instrumental underlines a different sort of response. Sometimes we need a break from all the madness, from the words of all sides: not to escape, but to gather our thoughts and seek clarity within. And so our readers will be happy to know that Fritch returns here to the half-lyric, half-instrumental format, with five songs in each category. And these wordless pieces are wonders. The press release’s comparisons to Ian William Craig and early Caretaker are fitting, as these tracks reflect a shift to the abraded orchestra and filtered voice. “Protracted” is the exception, a lovely slice of modern composition that whispers wisdom without words; while the thick choral atmosphere of “Aftermath” implies that something ancient and holy might still emerge from all this tumult: not an apocalypse, but an awakening. (Richard Allen)