Monolyth & Cobalt ~ The Dunen Diaries

Eilean Records was our Label of the Year in 2016, and has now reached a milestone 50th release.  It’s the rare instance in which the cover number matches the release number, as artists are allowed to choose their own.  But in this case, the artist is also the label founder, Matthias Van Eecloo, also known as Monolyth & Cobalt.

I first became familiar with the work of Monolyth & Cobalt through the Clyde Parker Project, in which Van Eecloo teamed with 100 artists from 25 countries.  This laid the groundwork not only for the Eilean label, but also for the current album, whose second disc is filled with collaborations.  This brings to mind a bit of irony, in that the artist’s name seems to be that of two.  The Dunen Diaries will be his last release under this name, and is the mid-point release for the label, which will end with release #100 before a new project is unveiled.  In the meantime, we also have IIKII Books, which has a slower release schedule but particularly elaborate book-and-disc packaging.

Knowing that this is the last Monolyth & Cobalt release graces the listening experience with a touch of sadness as an eight-year journey comes to a close.  One cannot help but think that the slow strums of the opening piece, the static and vinyl rub of the second and the operatic elegy of the third are meant as goodbyes.  As one of the last winter releases (paired with 9T Antiope’s Isthmus), it’s been given the color “white/grey” and graced with snowy artwork.  Perhaps by association, one also hears winter in these grooves.  The songs unfold slowly, deliberately, one step in front of the other.  It’s a long goodbye, and the artist seems reluctant to let go.  “Heimat” in particular seems to want to stay by the fire, a light crackle in the background offering warmth and light.  The electronic processing in the final sparse minute is a reminder of the artist’s earliest works, echoed like starlight in “North Way”.  In contrast, “Ovatlan” struggles to rise from slumber, as an ambient fuzz washes over the buzz like a blanket.

The second disc offers collaborators their own chance to say goodbye, albeit only to a moniker.  Each enlists the aid of a different artist, and one track is called “Farewell”.  Strings are a common feature, as one might expect from the names, as well as by the occasion.  Helena Espvall leads it off with the low-noted cello of “Skies a Crossed Crescent”, and the mood deepens from there.  “Blackness and Silence” reintroduces us to the lugubrious tones of Olga Wojciechowska, who adds structure with light bass and for the first time, leads the project into the realm of the foreboding.  In an excellent sequencing choice, “Farewell” (with Katharina Lundbøl) begins with a nearly-identical chimed note before heading into unusual directions: woodwinds, bells and a choral sample of a Russian-toned choir.  With any luck, we’ll hear a full album from her soon.  The other contributors are more familiar: Aaron Martin graces “Flood” with a touch of the serene, restoring a sense of balance; Madeleine Cocolas, fresh from her release Lunar, offers a light choral piece with additional bells, cementing the association with elegies, funerals, and finality; Twincities seems to mourn throughout the tingling, note-stretched “Pole”.  But then there’s a curve ball, as 61-year-old Swedish saxophonist Biggi Vinkeloe turns “Palindrome” into the party after the public gathering before Espvall shuts it all down.  Now the curtains are closed and the company has gone home.  Rest in peace, Monolyth & Cobalt; we’re glad to know you’re still alive!  (Richard Allen)

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