Joshua Van Tassel ~ Dance Music Volume Two: More Songs for Slow Motion

Volume One (2014) was a gift to Joshua Van Tassel‘s wife, a dancer and craniosacral therapist; Volume Two is a gift to us all.  More Songs for Slow Motion is “beauty composed as a response to the world’s ugliness,” softly uplifting and romantic at its core.  The video for the first single, Their Love Was Alive Before They Were Dead, features a couple sitting on a couch, holding hands while staring into each other’s eyes.  While this exercise has been promoted as a way to fall in love, it works for rekindling love as well.  Gentle piano and a string quartet serenade the session, the cello acting as a grounding force.  While listening, it’s easy to forget the tumultuous world around us, as the couple is lost in each other’s eyes.

The second video, released this week, is similarly slow in deference to the album’s title.  At first, “Muttering Spells” seems a reflection of a lazy day, as a woman lies back on a bed and begins to daydream.  But soon the character is obscured as she moves below the fitted sheet.  The camera focuses on the play of light on white as opposed to the agitation underneath.  In The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a paralyzed man finds beauty and solace in the nuance of light on curtains; the same principle holds true here.  Because there is still beauty in the smallest of things, they can become the largest of things.  A further contrast is established between the business of tasks and restorative reflection.  When the album was composed, Van Tassel meant to suggest slowness as a response to a fast-paced, over-scheduled life; little did he know we’d be plunged into such situations against our will and have to learn to surrender to the pause.

The album’s unhurried pace is its strength.  Van Tassel gives permission to lie back and listen, or to play the album while sitting wordlessly with a loved one.  These blessings are still available to us, no matter what our current situation. This is not to say that the set is entirely calm; the Ondes Martenot contributes moments of electronic uplift, beginning with the brightly-toned “Conjuror-er,” in which a seven-note major theme is set atop sparkling keys until a mid-piece shift to quietude, a soft resurgence, and a second downshift accompanied by distant rumbles of thunder.  The chimes of “Shadows Smile for You” cede to soaring strings and harmonic chords, followed by a soft, gentle descent.

By now, we’ve probably learned the main lesson of the album: we need to slow down. Action without thought is self-destructive; if we continue to react rather than reflect, we’ll collapse like the beast on the cover.  In a way, this has already occurred, leaving the question, “What now?”  Now that we’ve been exposed to a more ruminative existence, will we embrace its charms or plunge back into the old norms the moment they become available?  (Richard Allen)

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