Drifts and Flurries ~ A Second Language Collectanea

Few pairings are as exquisite as winter music and snow; Drifts & Flurries provides one in hope of the other.  Distinctly British in tone, this set begs to be accompanied by a good book; we recommend The Wrong Kind of Snow (Penn and Woodward, 2007) or Weatherland: Writers and Artists Under English Skies (Alexandra Harris, 2015).

The rejuvenated Second Language label has been on a tear lately, but Drifts & Flurries dates back nearly a decade.  In 2014, the Silver Servants collective began working on a winter-themed collection; their efforts are on display here, along with a wealth of new tracks from the extended label stable.  Their 13-minute “A Midwinter Litany I & II” is a charming folk piece that begins with bells and drums and the feeling of a tale told at a bar on a winter’s night.  The wide instrumental swath that closes “I” may make old men reminisce while staring into their glasses.  The second part travels in a different direction, from ambient bliss to electronics.

Second Language alumni Ghostwriter brackets the album with the three part poetry of “Winter, Remind Us.”  Isnaj Dui’s flute is intensely evident, especially in the instrumental second segment. But the most remarkable vocal piece comes from Alter Later (feat. Mücha) ~ a remake of Yazoo’s “Winter Kills” that updates the classic in reverent yet renovating fashion, with new inflection on the line, “tear at you searching for weaker seams.”  Ironically, the synth-pop band Covenant also released a new version recently, albeit in a less effective manner.

But of course for us it’s all about the lyric-free tracks, especially those that sound like winter.  The best include Marc Nambland’s fascinating “Pierre-Percée,” a field recording that investigates the sonic properties of frozen lakes; Yumi Mashika’s tender piano piece “Applecross;” ISAN’s ice-cold, electronic “Winter, Wraiths Skating” (which had us searching our archives to replay ISAN’s classic “Snowdrops and Phlox” from 2004’s Meet Next Life); and album highlight “The Frosted Pane,” a 16-minute bonus track from Glen Johnson and Bulgarian violinist Raisa Zapyranova, found on a CD3″ nestled in the physical packaging.  In the introduction, one hears the snow against the pane, drifts & flurries accumulating, filling the cracks, blanketing the world in white.  Light chimes & ratchets decorate the middle minutes; an all-out dance erupts in the finale.  By the closing, one is ready to light a fire and toast the winter; sheltering in place doesn’t seem so bad.  (Richard Allen)

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