Silent Opera seems tailor-made for a dance company. Through allusion and allegory, Long Arm presents a wide-angle story whose message is revealed through a voiceover in the closing minutes: “Choose life before it’s too late.” Stating one’s concept with a speech, however short, is a way to hammer home one’s point, but in this case it also obscures the initial concept, described in the liner notes: “to describe the states of the human soul.” William Barras’ cover painting implies some manner of purgatory, while the lead video (the title track) reflects love lost and recovered.
It’s hard to hear the chanting crowds in “How I Loved That” without thinking of the world’s situation. There seem to be so many things to protest these days, from oppression to amoral governments to inactivity in the face of climate change. Long Arm embeds these chants in a dance framework, but that doesn’t subdue the anger; it simply incorporates the emotion into this story of the soul. The piano, strings and vinyl static contribute to a feeling of melancholy. The combination of beats, bells and vintage samples produces a tone of nostalgia that hearkens back to the closing days of the last century.
The surprising flute and brass of “Sprouts of the Big Forest” offer a counterbalance; somewhere, good things are still growing. While there’s a good deal of disillusionment in these grooves, one can also glean hope, if reflected only in the uptempo nature of the music. “Wait for a Wonder!” is particularly effective, a trip hop track with birds, backward masking and interwoven vocal samples. But the LP’s highlight is the constantly-developing “Time Waits for No One,” which culminates in a chimed theme reminiscent of “Tubular Bells.”
Human nature is comprised of dueling forces, so the reception of this album may vary based on the temperament of the listener. A great distance is travelled between the protest chants of the opening track and the joyful tribal chants of the oddly-titled “He’s Afraid to Eat.” To some, the distance may reflect possibility; to others, loss. In like fashion, a line can be drawn from the mid-album chimes to the church bells that close the album. These rings simultaneously imply divine intervention and the John Donne quote “ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” As the human soul continues to wrestle with conditions personal and societal, there’s no telling where we might end up. Long Arm’s contribution is to acknowledge the potential for despair while reminding us that the other roads still remain open. (Richard Allen)