Alder & Ash ~ Psalms for the Sunder

psalms-1-coverPsalms for the Sunder is a reminder that some of the finest new music is being released only digitally.  June Barry’s cover art deserves to be appreciated in a three dimensional format, but the depth of scale is apparent even in the photo.  The art is a pure reflection of Adrian Copeland’s (Alder & Ash‘s) music, billed as “a study of downfall and collapse”.  The fields are dying, the leaves are falling, the green is leaching away.  And here are the notes, some pensive and some angry, but all confident and strong.  This is a suite of dust and chalk and the ascendence of the grey.

It’s amazing that such work can be achieved with solo cello and loop pedal.  The atmosphere sounds much thicker, the timbres far richer than one might imagine, given the setup.  By striking his instrument, Copeland even adds percussion to the roster.  The overlapping lines of “At Night in the Slaughterhouse” imply a small ensemble where none is present.  And through it all, we hear the tone of the inevitable, not only the autumn turning to winter, but the approach of darkness, the lover’s betrayal.  The violent blasts at the end of “Slaughterhouse” imply a dangerous, living presence.  There’s no time to hide.  It’s here.

Copeland is one a handful of performers who choose to investigate the full potential of their instruments.  As foreboding as the set may be, the music also includes moments of tenderness, as found in the center of “Black Salt” ~ the higher notes almost apologetic, offering tears of mourning instead of fear.  The subtlety of such sequences lies in sharp contrast to the overt attacks of the foreground.  Copeland doesn’t just play the cello.  He uses the cello to comment on the cello.  

The reference to Gomorrah in the penultimate track brings to mind the ancient story of destruction found in the book of Genesis.  The oddest part of the story is also the most poignant.  Lot’s wife is told not to look back as she flees the city, yet she can’t help stealing one final glance, at which point she is turned into a pillar of salt.  Metaphorically, the salt implies tears, softening the overall violence of the tale.  There was something worth loving in that which was destroyed.  This is the tone struck by Psalms for the Sunder, the title carefully chosen as well.  And even more: digging through the rubble, one may find burned treasures that never existed before the fire.  Lot’s wife looked back, yes ~ but now we look back at her, and the cycle continues, from destruction to regret, from alder to ash.  (Richard Allen)

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