Alaskan Tapes ~ Views From Sixteen Stories

I’m pretty excited about the t-shirt I just ordered from Alaskan Tapes.  It’s a perfect match for the fall, when birds begin to migrate lugubriously, starting their long journey from Toronto (the home of Brady Kendall) to parts south.  The same is true of the grey vinyl and absorbingly melancholic music.  Kendall is no stranger to the mood, having released albums with titles that include Separation and Isolation and The Ocean No Longer Wants Us.  We’re about to enter that season, and this warm album, including noteworthy contributions from Jay Austin (French Horn) and Raphael Weinroth-Browne (cello) helps to ease the transition.

While Alaskan Tapes is primarily an ambient project, we’ve tagged it as post-rock on this release.  The artist has always exuded an undercurrent of post-rock, but on lead single “The Times Are Tired,” it comes to the fore.  Gentle drums and emotive cello join thoughtful guitar for a contemplative piece that never gets loud, but is still louder than one might expect.  Segue this track into a soft Do Make Say Think track and the flow will be idyllic.  In like fashion, the string-laden and piano-dotted “And Yet They Float” is reminiscent of Rachel’s, and might fit well in a modern composition set.  The miked piano (most apparent on “Another Song to Stop the Spinning” and “Still”) provides the album with a homespun warmth.  But even when the music turns purely, unapologetically ambient (“Lift Me (Somehow),” the mournful tone ~ like withdrawal and endings ~ remains intact.

In light of the release date (eight days after 9/11) it’s impossible to ignore the track titles “Views From Tower Two” and “Views From Sixteen Stories.”  The tower attack is indelibly etched in the minds of mourners in September, and even if the connection is unintentional, the sense of peace provided by these pieces is not.  We may be enjoying a luxurious, sunny day when suddenly everything falls down.  All the more reason to embrace what and whom we have, to hold on to happy moments, fleeting as they may be.  This is the entire purpose of Alaskan Tapes: to name our sadness, and to offer it a serenade.  The album may look grey, and sound grey, and grey may be the color of ashes, but it is also the color of indeterminate things, able to tip in one direction or the other.  Ironically, the empathy of Alaskan Tapes may lift listeners from the grey of the day.  (Richard Allen)

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