Occasionally, an artist and a label seem inseparable, synonymous even. Amon Tobin and Ninja Tune come to mind, as do John Coltrane and Impulse Records. I could compile an exhaustive list of artist-label marriages forged in the heavens, but that is not why I’m here. Fernando Corona, better known to your ears as Murcof, and The Leaf Label are rekindling one such union.
In the press release from Leaf, their excitement illuminates the words right off the page. It has been nearly 14 years since they last released a Murcof album, Cosmos, and the long wait is (nearly) over. I was just looking at thumbnails of the cover art on Bandcamp and my brain recalled the first time I experienced the aesthetic parallel bliss of hearing Martes and marveling at the cover. So now, we will soon revel in listening to The Alias Sessions on heavy rotation. We, the listeners, can also rekindle our love affair with Murcof.
For me personally, that love affair never really went away, but it did have some rocky patches. I suffered through the tough years of nearly-impossible to find soundtracks or a mildly grating exploration of so-called Jazz with French trumpeter Erik Truffaz. It was akin to the times when you fight about who does the dishes and maybe even forget to say “I love you” before going to bed. But the love is still valiantly coursing through your veins. You let a single tear escape as you look at old pictures. Maybe that old picture comes in the form of an addiction to a YouTube video of Murcof at the Ravenna Festival, with ANTIVJ carefully curating that floating piece of the universe where your love exists. These relationships navigate seemingly contradictory, possibly even paradoxical stages and layers; a refutation of mutual exclusivity in how we love. And don’t laugh — the relationships we have as listeners with music and the musicians responsible for it are very real. No, Fernando Corona doesn’t know me. He’s never even responded to a tweet from me, let alone thought of me as an object of adoration. Yet, I have to believe that part of why people who make music – who gush their soul into the art of it – are participating in a love affair, of some sort, with their listeners.
Now, not only has my relationship with Murcof existed in simultaneous states, at certain times, of near-abandonment and still-raging veneration based on varying projects. My relationship to his aesthetic is equally as perplexing in some moments within the releases in his discography that I worship in my own pantheon. Nearly twenty years ago, Martes elicited in me an emotional response analogous to my experience with the deserts of the Fertile Crescent. Life, in all its resiliency, is tested severely by the heat, sun, sand, and parched root. It — the desert and the album – were a form of ecological familiarity I’d never known before, whilst also a totally fearsome place. A place to love and die in.
Flash forward to the present and Corona has come full circle anew with The Alias Sessions. I say it that way, due to the aforementioned projects I wasn’t thrilled with, but at least Corona doesn’t settle or pander. With this album, he has delivered me another enfathomed listening experience; one with awe and reverence, but also terror and uncertainty. If Martes lived in desert aridity, then The Alias Sessions lives in the boundlessness and fearsomeness of the open ocean.
The brilliance of this enormous album also harkens back to Cosmos, with a delicate mixture and balance of glitch-rhythmed pieces and hauntological ambient passages. Only, I would say, done with exponential effect. Prepare yourself for an 88-minute endorphin rush.
Returning to this album’s oceanic locality: often, but not always, the ambient passages touch the side of me that is enamored with the sea. “Dandelion Heart” is almost a creation myth; the oceans that ceded surface area to land, in a slow process that left the gods’ minds wandering in tectonic plates. Epochs can seem empty of the remarkable as they lead up to an explosion of activity. The sparse piano and synth droplets that foreshadow the coming fury in “Unboxing Utopia.” The fluttering anticipation of the Kraken’s tail, like a deep-water rattlesnake, subtly announce that explosion of activity is onrushing. “Unboxing Utopia” churns with the epic and immeasurable creative energies of the sea. The gods are suddenly raptured in a dance of multitudes becoming. If you have a way to listen to this track extremely loudly on headphones, you may be overcome by what a towering noise the beat is constructed from. “Nocturnal Sunrise” is steeped in sonar-sweeping discovery of the depths and the life we still barely understand there. Dynamically, it leads perfectly into “Underwater Lament,” one of the more drum programming-focused pieces. From a “Nocturnal Sunrise,” deep in the stillness, we are given ballast to rise near — but not above — the surface for “Underwater Lament,” where we find a busier pace of life. Or possibly a slightly more frenetic and competitive one. The dissolution of the drum programming feels as if we’ve killed the engine and are just drifting with the current, marveling at the world above, while still submerged. And for a moment, there is a bell-synth sound that perfectly mimics the separate and collective tone colors of rain hitting the surface from below. A sad mutedness descends there into “Inevitable Truth.” The song builds and roils into a ferocious riptide fueled by spring currents. And there, “Between Thoughts,” you are slung out to the open ocean, both calm and fierce, familiar as death and as alien as curiosity can plumb. This is hopefully doing justice to Contre-Mondes (Against Worlds, the title of disc 1) to the best of the ability this poet can conjure. Otherwise I risk being against the worlds that Fernando Corona has constructed for me to live in.
If I may interject for a moment, as you flip the record or change the CD or do…whatever is analogous on Spotify. I made note to myself, after maybe the fifteen millionth listen of this album, to mention Corona’s aesthetic kinship with Arvo Pärt. Pärt, himself, has ascribed the terminology “tintinnabulum” to his composition and style. The sound of the bells, or “little bell”; more literally from Medieval Latin. Furthermore, it is my belief that tintinnabulum shares genetic coding with both the evolutionary and learned behavior patterns of the oceans.
On Normal (disc 2), the tidal and patterned pacing are slightly less reliable than within Contres-Mondes, but that does not detract from it in the least. The true gem here is “Ideology Storm.” The rhythm pulses with the rancor of fear. Fear of the immeasurability of the ocean and how none of our senses do us any good for survival purposes there. It is the fear of being pursued by an apex predator who has a 600-million-year head start on us in the ocean. Eventually, the track sputters out at the height of hypervigilance, where death in the jaws of that predator releases us back to ecstasy. The rest of disc 2 floats supine in contemplation of liminality until finally “Void Glance” completely unmoors us in sleep. A final autonomous sensory meridian response before being re-released into the wilds of the afterlife.
I thank you for your patience with my attempts to translate a major portion of this impressive offering in a way that might draw you into a deep listening of it. It is the same patience some of us employed between proper albums from Murcof. This album is quite the undertaking, particularly for the fact that it leaves not a single beat or second or cadence or shift to the unremarkable. It begs for your immersed attention at all times, as it offers such a rich diversity of audio discovery. May your submersion be one of loving delight, even in the moments trepidatious or frightening. (Gabriel Bogart)