Many artists are writing and releasing new music as a response to the current crisis, but a few, by luck or blind design, already had relevant albums in the works. Zoon van snooK is one of them. Se•pa•ra•ción is released on Friday, but was recorded a year ago and submitted this February. Amazingly, it bears a message that is both timely and eerily prescient.
On the surface, Se•pa•ra•ción is a piano album. The ivories are tender and empathetic in parts, courageous and upfront in others (particularly the string-laced, stormer “¡Madre!”). The album bears a tumult of emotions that reflects its far-flung genesis.
Inspired by travels throughout South and Central America, Zoon van snooK (who is from the U.K.) had a lot of time to think about xenophobia and borders as his own nation limped through a horrible Brexit. Here he was, experiencing beautiful native cultures and their music, musing about the things we have in common while struggling with the thought that others emphasize the things that make us different. But aren’t those differences part of a tapestry? he thought. So he wove this tapestry into his music, building his piano pieces around field recordings of nature, conversation and local instruments.
But there was a deeper personal connection as well, which we’ll copy from the liner notes so our readers can see just how well the album fits the times: the artist experienced “a number of personal setbacks over this period, each galvanising a sense of isolation and the overall theme of separation. Whether it be the break down of a relationship; detachment; isolation; or the death of a parent, these periods in our lives that test us and lay us low can provide the background hum that, though at times seems deafening and unmanageable, can provide the underlying base note from which to create harmony.”
Here we are now, all isolated and yearning for contact, company and connection. We’re wondering why we argued about the little things; why our government’s response to a shared catastrophe is to make more borders; and if we’ll ever be okay again. Our isolation is both physical and emotional.
“Why don’t you talk to the people here?” asks a man at the beginning of “Rocinha.” His problems sound like ours, wherever we are. He needs his next paycheck; he’s afraid to protest because he may lose his ability to buy food. Traffic passes in the background, the sound of normalcy in an abnormal world. So many out of work. So many voices unheard.
And yet, there is encouragement to be found throughout the album also. The end of “Zócalo” sounds like a calliope, with children venturing outside to play once more. A chorus of frogs decorates “Selva,” promising summer serenades. Lead single “Cusco” contains a “WOO!” exaltation a third of the way in, leading to a joyous rolling of snares, like a parade ~ a spontaneous outpouring in the streets. Again the strings surge forth. Now there’s happy chanting and shouts of joy. Is this what coming out of isolation sounds like? Hopefully we’ll know soon enough.
Despite its foreboding title, “Dead Woman’s Pass” continues to up the ante, a repeated piano pattern topped with flute and lively drums, giving way to a tender ivory melody. And then in the closing track, there’s no mistaking it: the children are now ebullient. In the third minute, it’s time for dancing, while the fifth offers a big, beautiful finale. The separación has ended, and even as we write that word, we’ve removed the dots that once separated the syllables. By ending on such notes of hope, Zoon van snooK has given us exactly what we need ~ even if he had no idea how timely the album would turn out to be when he recorded it. (Richard Allen)