Memory Drawings ~ The Nearest Exit

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)

One comment

  1. Joel Hanson

    Thanks for the careful listen and the evocative review, Richard. We really appreciate it. I just thought I’d share some comments about the title: The Nearest Exit.

    When I first proposed the title to my bandmate Richard midway through the recording, arranging, and mixing process, I was thinking about the notion of suicide as a literal exit (after Richard lost a friend – and former Memory Drawings contributor – early last year). Later, the title took on more metaphoric connotations. I’d been reading Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth (about how to cultivate mindfulness and move away from the incessant thought stream in our heads) and the title, The Nearest Exit, suddenly took on a new dimension: as an exit from the thinking self. In the band bio, I wrote about an “exit” serving as an apt metaphor for, among other things, an escape from patterned ways of thinking. However, part of what I meant (and didn’t articulate) is that the nearest exit is the quickest way (whatever that is) of getting to a desired state of consciousness where one moves through negative self-talk and is focused on the moment instead of worrying about the future or regretting the past. Lately I’ve been experiencing that kind of mindfulness during daily hour-long bike rides, but also from tai chi classes and simple breathing exercises I do in the morning. And I must say that I’ve felt much more peaceful these days. I hope that our record has a similar effect on the listener.

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