Red Sun Through Smoke is a revelation. We’ve been fans of Ian William Craig for years, and over the course of time he’s invited listeners to draw closer and closer. In the beginning, his voice was obscured by layers of static, loop and reverberation. Album by album, he began to reveal first his voice, then his words, until finally he was stripped bare, unadorned in voice and emotion. Now he invites us to mourn with him, to struggle with him, to embrace the unanswered, or as Craig puts it in the opening piece, “the random.”
The extensive liner notes open a window to the artist’s world. The lyrics may be fragments of diary entries, but without additional exposition they would remain purely poetic. Now that we know what Craig has been going through, we understand his circumstances a bit better; but even with explanations, his reflections remain elusive, just beyond our comprehension: “taking earth inside your belly just to feel the weight.”
The title Red Sun Through Smoke is both literal and metaphorical. Wildfires raged in British Columbia during the recording process, creating a chain reaction that rocked Craig’s world: his grandfather taken ill as a result of the smoke, exacerbating his pre-existing condition, eventually leading to his death. In the meantime, with a mixture of happiness and absurdity, Craig fell in love and realized it was mutual just before his partner moved away for a season. When he sings, “all of my life, take it all,” one thinks of surrender to love, “a little death.” Love and death, memory and mystery, hope and wonder all intertwine, the artist straining to see the sun through the smoke.
One might say that the world feels the same way right now: hope occluded, dreams abraded, light obscured. The sun still shines, but appears muted, distorted, an improper shade. The challenge is to imagine the clarity beyond the clouds: to look beyond the current circumstances, past the senses, to deeper meaning beyond.
But Craig also has something to say about distortion. Using a 4-track recorder and shortwave radio, he creates a patina of decaying loops that speak simultaneously of life and disintegration. Even the piano notes fray like dusty records played by a worn needle. Tracing the roots of his sound, Craig reminisces of hours spent admiring his grandfather’s interactions on a ham radio. “All of the sounds inherent to that process, from the crackling static to the disembodied voices breaking up to the glissando of the frequency dial searching for connection, have directly informed what it is that I do.” On the surface, the crunchy, lo-fi sounds obscure Craig’s voice, making listeners strain to hear him clearly; below the surface, they are integral to his sound, not an obfuscation but an amplification. There is value in the struggle, in the static and the smoke. I will bless you for the weight. (Richard Allen)