Blair Coron‘s full-length debut refuses to stay in the background. A trio of dynamic shifts make the listener sit up and take notice. The first is that the opening track is first softer, then louder than one might expect. The second is a short poem in the center of the set. The third is the use of silence. On the Nature of Things marks a huge step up from his debut EP, DO/RE, a lovely solo effort topped by the collaborative nature of the new release. By the time we get to the solo piano, we’ve already received a richness of orchestral hues, and are ready to descend into the solitude of black and white. At 19:25, the length of the closing title track is intriguing: a highly unusual move that works in context, but that we never would have recommended in advance. Add the colorful explosion of the cover, and we find an album primed for spring.
The seeds of the album were planted on the 2016 EP: the spaces of “Haiku” and the poetry of “Abstract #32.” Coron has a warm, pleasant reading voice; it’s easy to fall into these intonations. But “Ode to the Cimmerian” is succinct ~ a blissful minute of spoken word, followed by choir ~ where “Abstract #32” held a monologue four times as long. The lynchpin of the album, “Ode to the Cimmerian” signals a 180-degree turn. (For the curious, Conan the Barbarian is never mentioned.) And the flirtation with silence on “Haiku” blossoms into a romance on “Doom,” which sows only a handful of chords across a four minute garden. The organ of DO / RE’s “Arabesque” made it a natural closer, but on the album, the lushness arrives early. Don’t adjust the volume; just wait. A string sextet waits to shatter the glass ceiling, not once but twice. They remain in play throughout the first half, blending in a most elegant fashion on the 11-minute “R/G/B,” reflecting the color model via sonic/chromatic synesthesia.
The elegance of the title track is foreshadowed by the opening of “In the Garden.” It’s not like Coron’s friends desert him toward the end of the album; it’s more like they continue to lounge around the open porch, drinks in hand, toasting the man at the ivories. Together the players are sublime; but once the vote of confidence is in, the listener is able to zero in on the individual. Coron writes that the album is about “the intricacy and fragility of life, nature and the surrounding world.” The intimacy of the set’s second half allows us to experience this fragility in multiple manners: the fragility of individual notes, the fragility of the silence broken by these notes, and the dual fragility of their relationship, which we experience as we marvel at the measured intervals.
It’s difficult to overstate the boldness of the album. The movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” highlights an incident in which a label executive refuses to release what would become the band’s iconic song. No such oversight is present here, but one suspects most bosses would have told Coron, “No.” Instead, we’ve received the composer’s unique vision, which includes a transcendent opening series, at least one potential single (“Olives and Marzipan”), and a back end that invites listeners to go deeper just when they are ready to do so. Reverse the tracks, and the album doesn’t work. Sequenced in this fashion, Coron earns our attention first, then our admiration.
Two more surprises await. After 13:45 of the title track, an electronic pulse develops, like those seeds fighting their way through frozen ground. Few would expect a dynamic shift to occur at this juncture. But again, it works. Bass rumbles, clear chimes sound and the leaves unfold. Then in the eighteenth minute, a sweet coda, softer than expected, returning to the subdued volume of the album’s opening notes. By circling back to its origins, the album manages to highlight both spring and the cyclical nature of the seasons. The notes fertilize the ground as the world returns to life. (Richard Allen)