The title makes one think of an emergency: head for the nearest exit. The music is like the safety on the other side of that exit. As one plays this sublime album, one thinks of fields of wheat, filtered sun, a vast horizon; and as it turns out, this is exactly what one gets in the title track’s peaceful video.
Hammered dulcimer is an uncommon lead instrument, yet Joel Hanson makes a convincing case for expanding its use. The collective melts snugly around his notes, at times traveling beyond where one might usually expect. The tracks alternate timbres, half touching on modern composition, half favoring post-rock. The shared vision of the guest stars is clearly felt: Richard Adams (Hood / The Declining Winter), Sarah Kemp (Brave Timbers), Chris Cole (Movietone / Manyfingers) and Gareth S Brown (Hood). Separately, they navigate different genres, yet their music is united by a warm aura, which they then bring to this project. One can imagine them sitting around a fireplace with a few drinks, lovingly allowing these pieces to travel where they will.
Some of the greatest beauty arrives when some of the instruments retreat: after the post-rock pair of “Subtle Transformation” and “The Nearest Exit”, Kemp’s violin adds sweet poignancy to the ensuing triptych, building a bridge to the next percussive pieces. Eventually one realizes that the halves of the album are like a folded piece of paper. The titles speak of struggle (“My Own Worst Enemy”, “Not My Finest Hour”), but rise to subtle hope in “The Light You Cannot See”, a reference to Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, which follows the same trajectory. The bracket tracks “The Slow Regard of Silent Things” refer to a fantasy novella which despite its complexity has a modest heart.
A bonus ~ and it’s a big one ~ is the fact that the album size is doubled when one purchases a physical edition. The remixes come from members of the extended collective, along with a few friends. There’s enough variety to consider the bonus disc an album in its own right, perhaps a lost set from the greatly missed Cotton Goods. This is first apparent in the remix by The Humble Orchestra (The Humble Bee), which glides on a sea of homespun ambience. Three of the reworks add vocals, and another two vocal samples, which work in context. Robert Rich deepens the impact of “Not My Finest Hour” with layers of ambience and a grounding bass. But the greatest changes lead to the greatest impact. Manyfingers turns the placid “Your Own Worst Enemy” into something that actually sounds dangerous, with off-stage rustlings, slow handclaps, drums and dark streaks of the bow. In this piece, we hear the forces gathered outside the album, the emergency that originally inspired the title. As we recall the threat, the album’s intimation of safety grows all the more comforting. (Richard Allen)