“On Mirage, I’m trying to hide the human,” writes Ben Lukas Boysen, making his new album a challenging form of hide and seek. We’re aware of the collaborators, which include Anne Müller and Daniel Thorne, but must strain to find them. And while the album’s first sound is the voice of Lisa Morgenstern, she appears more as note than human: looped and modulated beyond individual recognizability. Swallowed by vast waves of organ and percussion, her note fades into an ocean of sound.
Boysen has come a long way since his days as Hecq, on ACL scoring an album of the year by collaborating with Sebastian Plano on Everything. The new album has the same expansive feeling of the macro turning into micro and vice versa. Feel and flow are more important than verse and chorus. As the waves of “Empyrean” recede, one thinks one can hear Müller, but it may just be a mirage. More obvious is the piano of “Kenotaph,” until one learns that it is actually two pianos being played in two different countries. The mind plays tricks on the ear. And yet, despite Boysen’s intentions, he is unable to hide the human completely, as a feeling of warmth is conveyed by the ivories, distant or not. And even if the handclaps of “Medela” are illusions, we picture hands clapping, wrapping back around to the fact that even digital compositions have human composers. This time we’re sure we hear Müller, as the Red Sea parts in the center to expose her cello; but before she can escape to the other side, the waters rush back in.
Even the cover image is obscured; if pressed, we’d say it’s a squid. The shade is so dark it’s impossible to be sure. On this album, so much is left up to the interpretation of eye and ear. One might project the concept of “alternate facts” to make a political point, or “a glass darkly” to inject a spiritual note. The listener yearns for clarity when it is obscured, yet this isn’t apophenia or pareidolia; these patterns are anything but random. The hand of the composer is visible in “Clarion,” the set’s most straightforward track. The piece begins with piano and cello, then introduces drums and teeters on the brink of post-rock before re-embracing the strings. And finally there is “Love,” the most human of emotions, and there we are, hiding in plain sight. (Richard Allen)