Ithaca is a tranquil, expansive phantom. It is more than just a place, it is also a web of emotional states and historical traces where the twists of grand myths meet the common patterns of everyday life. Madeleine Cocolas wrote this album after a long journey, having returned to the old town once called Ithaca in modern-day Brisbane, Australia, after many years of living away. It is a place that shares its name with the island of Homer’s Odysseus, its significance not solely anchored upon the hero’s return but also upon the realization that circumstances have changed, and that the hero must reckon with a new sense of self-recognition. But Cocolas adds one more layer to this return, acknowledging in her liner notes that the Ithaca of her past was never fully an originary Ithaca, but an imposition over the name given to the place by its first inhabitants, the Jagera and Turrbal, who called it Mianjin. Different times and different dimensions of it converge in the process of homecoming, some of them personal, some of them legendary, some of them historical, some of them collective.
This self-understanding, as a drawn-out clash of memory and feelings, combines minimalist instrumentation with electronics that sometimes flow swiftly in ambient form, sometimes add dense textures bordering drone and noise, or sometimes even explode into retro-futuristic, propulsive sequences akin to many a Vangelis or Mike Oldfield track. The return to a land whose image is already unfixed, once displaced by settlers, then by urban planning, and lastly by a journey in-between, is a simultaneously hopeful and haunting proposition: the instruments (primarily the piano) are always a source of clarity, a personal, emotional core that paints the picture of reckoning; in the meantime, the electronics, whether in the background or in the forefront, seem to bring all the traces of an Ithaca / Mianjin that was and is, an intense texture woven from old recurring dreams forged anew.
After Odysseus wakes up on the shores of Ithaca from a state akin to death, the story calls attention to the idea that his Ithaca no longer exists, and ultimately poses the question of whether he is still himself. That burden of history is not solely personal, but involves the entirety of the island, a haze that grows and recedes like a tide – the only track free from any electronics, second to last in the album’s order, bears the name “The Heart Doesn’t Lie (Except When It Does)”. Its beautiful, melancholic piano melody, highlighted by expert use of silence in the composition, represents well the bittersweet realization that the present is a conflict between past and future, that self-recognition in this place out of time is a moment of contradiction. As the album ends, the electronics return, and the haze begins to suggest a certain brightness, a kind of optimism that speaks of peace. Ithaca as a place forever in transition, as a phantom, reflects upon homecoming not as an event, but as a process that potentially never ends. And that’s perfectly fine. (David Murrieta Flores)