Once in a while, an artist wanders from one genre into another, but seldom does a primarily vocal artist release a primarily instrumental album. As part of PAN’s unique roster, Eartheater is highly original within her primary field; we’re just glad that she’s chosen to visit ours. Phoenix: La Petite Mort Édition is a completely reworked version of October’s Phoenix, and bears two additional surprises: how much the album diverges from the original, and how well it personifies a second phoenix.
For comparison’s sake, let’s start by visiting Phoenix. The album mirrors its namesake: rebirth rising from intense pressure and heat. There’s little separation between artist and concept, as Eartheater claims to have “emerged from a lava lake” and if the cover art is to be believed, has heat-resistant wings and the ability to shoot sparks from her private areas. She has clearly risen from a bad relationship stronger, and now has quite an origin story. We’re also a little bit jealous of that second part.
And while we don’t normally mention such things in reviews, we would be wrong not to mention the inextricable vein of sexual power that runs through the release, as evidenced in the video for “Faith Consuming Hope,” obvious in the still shot. When it comes to the human body, the artist has a remarkable lack of self-consciousness, yet does not seem exhibitionist; this is simply who she is. There’s masculine energy in the midst of the feminine, a sense of “owning it.” Mingled images, from reverent to revolutionary, traditional religion to cultish, servant to master, fashion to flesh, flirtation to dominance, are melded to a universal message: “the only way out of this is through.”
After seeing this video, it’s likely our readers are split into two categories: the fascinated and the disturbed. Eartheater has the potential to be both iconic and polarizing. So let’s remove the visual and vocal aspects to highlight her dual talents for composition and conducting. “Metallic Taste of Patience” features her arrangements for the Ensemble de Cámara.
“Metallic Taste of Patience” is as close to our website’s wheelhouse as “Faith Consuming Hope” is far. It’s also a lot easier to link to Phoenix: La Petite Mort Édition, and has become the reworked album’s closing track, although “track” is only a bookmarking word for an album that flows like a single extended piece. The track order has been shuffled to enhance the flow (like lava); the two singles, “Faith Consuming Hope” and “Volcano,” now appear near the end as well, along with the brief, barnstorming “Burning Feather,” whose original version has vocals, but not lyrics. (As a bonus, we’ve also included the video for “Volcano,” released only yesterday, at the bottom of this post ~ filmed in an actual California volcano, it solidifies the album’s theme like cooling magma.)
Eartheater’s advice is to let the new version of the album play “while asleep after climax,” which this reviewer has not yet done (apologies); but the album need not inhabit the post-coital realm in order to have an impact. The artist’s voice remains in tendrils, whispers and layers, splayed across the sonic field along with strings and unraveled chords. The rising tension of “How to Fight” is like an ascending realization of one’s own strength in the midst of dissolution. The breaking down and building up of the original masters (no pun intended although one might be gleaned) echoes that of the spirit in flames. By the end, the mass of voices and notes builds to a satisfying conclusion, a soft explosion, a trusting surrender.
On the cover of Phoenix, Eartheater seems to revel in her new powers; on the cover of the new edition, she seems completely at home with herself, eyes narrowed, lost in thought, pleasure or some combination of the two. It may seem strange to note that an artist so overt can also shelter such mystery, but the very existence of this new album, coiled yet subdued, is a demonstration of just how much more may lie beneath the artist’s metamorphic surface. (Richard Allen)