We’re not sure where Usher’s Hill is located, but based on the look and sound of this set, it’s a beautiful place: bucolic, green, sedate. One pictures sheep at pasture, blankets spread upon the ground, petals falling slowly in the sun. This is one of two Monty Adkins albums to be released this season, the other being Shadows and Reflections on Crónica. The latter album is based on a series of paintings, while the current work operates as a painting itself, with wide swaths of granulated sound matched by pointillist notes.
Not immediately apparent is the fact that A Year at Usher’s Farm is a collaborative effort. Adkins (organ, celesta, electronics) is joined by Jonathan Best (piano). While Best’s tones are as soft as fresh grass, Adkins’ sounds twinkle like wishing stars ~ especially those of the celesta, a chime-like keyboard with the timbre of a music box. The celesta tracks come across as tiny fairy tales, throwing one back into childhood and sparking the imagination. “Radiant Moon” is the most evocative, rotating static like radio waves cushioning the hopes and dreams of pajama-clad children. Best picks up the thread in “Under a Luna Sky”, offering a short sonata before bedtime, the gentle lull of a bedtime story without words.
“Solstice” is the album’s most active piece, its rapid electronic patterns suggesting an outdoor party on the longest day of the year. This is Eilean’s last summer album of 2017, a reminder that the nights are already shrinking, that the earth is tumbling further from the sun. We may not have noticed yet, but soon the hints will be everywhere. Today there’s still time to get outside, to find one’s own Usher’s Hill and to roll down it in gleeful abandon: to appreciate the moon as it delights its way across the sky, to enjoy the Eden that we are given while its colors still sparkle and gleam. (Richard Allen)