It’s Lent, and New Zealand’s Levi Patel has gathered twelve friends to travel with him on his latest musical journey. While the coincidence is likely unintentional, it’s fair to call A Shifting Lightness a spiritual pilgrimage. The album began as an EP with the same name and cover art, so be careful to purchase the version you want; the four tracks of the EP are also the four lead tracks of the album.
On his last album, Affinity, the artist incorporated the timbres of post-rock; this time around, he’s returned to piano and strings, with a light electronic shift toward the back end. There’s an intense beauty here, suffused with a bit of sadness. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the music was composed in solitude (Lent again!), but as the album develops any melancholy seems to turn to perspective, understanding and resolve. The first hint of such movement appears in the surge of “Her angled beauty,” as a host of instruments surround Patel’s piano with encouragement and hope.
Dawn and dusk are the best times to play the album, as these are times of a shifting lightness. Minute changes can be noted during these hours; look away for too long and the shadows will already have darkened or dissipated, depending on the time of day. Rich hues are often apparent, as reflected in the album’s cover art. One may be reminded of cycles, of all good things coming to an end or the fact that each day is a new beginning. As such, these liminal hours are also metaphors. When we are silent, we hear more; when we are still, we see more. In a remote cabin, Patel had plenty of time to think, to face any demons he may have had, to notice the nuances of natural beauty around him and perhaps within him. After he emerged, his friends gathered around him, and he shared his songs, which now sound bolstered. The titles reflect this temporal progression: “Dusk Draws Away,” “Through winter eyes.”
Eventually the album arrives at spring. The ninth and tenth tracks are particularly full, with double bass, French horn, clarinet, flute, synth and soft, wordless choir: an emotional emergence. While the convergence with Lent may be a coincidence, the release date is not; the album launches on the first day of the season of flowers. One can hear them blooming in the second half of “A landscape of her own,” sung into life. By “All around us,” the flora are swaying.
Let the album repeat, and you’ll discover that the melody of the last track is the same of the first. The year has come around again; the earth has completed its revolution around the sun. How has the last year changed us? What will the next year bring? The answers may be found in solitude, but the joy is in the sharing. (Richard Allen)