Mourning Jewelry is a stunningly gorgeous album; during the cavalcade of submissions we’ve had this summer, it’s the one record that stayed on repeat. The music is adaptable to any situation. It can occupy the foreground or fade into the background; it can provoke thought or emotion; it can seem sad or soothing. Two years have passed since Solifuge, and Julie Carpenter’s band has only improved with time.
Mourning Jewelry sounds like the vast, open desert of its genesis: Joshua Tree, CA. The wordless vocals resonate like mirages of melody across shimmering dunes. The park’s name was inspired by the tree, the tree’s name by Joshua’s supplication in the Bible. As such, one expects ~ and finds ~ a degree of mysticism embedded in synth and string. While the angle of Less Bells may be more spiritual than Scriptural, the same transcendence is sought. The track titles are an “alternate tarot,” while mourning jewelry is worn “to create beauty out of grief.” Who wouldn’t want to be mourned in such a fashion?
The highlight is the wisely-chosen first single, “Fiery Wings,” borne aloft by a ten-note cello melody that one would normally expect to exude a gravitational pull. And yet, the dark instrument provides uplift. Chimed notes fill the finale like better angels, leading to cascades of piano in the subsequent track. The passage between pieces is as porous as that between states of consciousness or worlds. “The Gates” are wide open, allowing sojourners to travel each way.
In “Queen of Crickets,” the banjo returns the timbre to earth, but to the warmth of memory more than the turmoil of trouble. This lays the groundwork for “The Fault,” the only track to yield a palpable air of lament. What is lost remains lost, but the sorrow is incorporated into the soul. As the album grows increasingly ambient, the effect is one of solace. The process of mourning through music was likely therapeutic for Carpenter, as beauty has indeed arisen from these ashes. (Richard Allen)