At first take, the album seems perfectly primed for release in the Southern Hemisphere, whose winter has ended as other winters have just begun. But while Snowmelt is the sonic theme of this thoughtful new Australian album, the spiritual theme is climate change. The LP’s only down side is that its beauty; the sounds are so gorgeous than one thinks less of Greta Thunberg than of bucolic brooks and peaceful trees.
The sumptuous field recordings were made on a pair of trips to Kunama Namadgi (Mount Kosciuszko) in the Australian Alps. The snow and ice are melting more rapidly, exposing the terrain to new dangers. Two years ago, wildfires ravaged the nation. Given this reminder, one receives the serene guitar and buzzing insects more as a salve than as a solution; sometimes beauty can motivate preservation as much as alarm.
The guitars were “quietly recorded in an icy cabin located inside the Kosciuszko National Park,” conjuring images of frozen artists tapping their feet to stay warm. But there are long passages without music as well. “Rennix Cabin” begins with footsteps and perhaps the sound of gathering wood. (We briefly misread the title as “Remix Cabin,” which would also apply as the music is decorated with loops.) Birds and frogs perform an unlikely duet, perhaps recorded at day and night, melded in the remix cabin (sorry, Rennix.) The album’s densest musical sequence lands at the end of “Rennix Heath,” with rapid percussion and the energy of a newly converted activist.
“Spencer Creek” and “Charlotte’s Pass” unfold in two and three parts, although not consecutively. The implication is that we don’t step into the same river twice; we may step into the river and return a few years later only to find an empty riverbed. Should one make metaphors of the music, one might regard the music as a species or facet of the physical environment: so filled with life, and then gone. When the guitar disappears from “Spencer Creek Pt. I,” we lean in to the busyness of nature and occasional bell, the forest coming to life in twig and branch. When the guitar returns, it steps more lightly on the brush; and in “Part II” the guitar is replaced by forlorn wind, the sound of cold desolation. The creek seems turgid, ready to dispel its excess. Even more foreboding are the thunderclaps of “Charlotte’s Pass Pt. I,” seeming like a prophecy of things to come. But when “Pt. II” and “Pt. III” back away from the danger, one begins to think of “Spencer’s Creek” and “Charlotte’s Pass” is dueling trajectories: possible visions of the future should humanity decide on different paths. May wisdom, courage and foresight guide our decision. (Richard Allen)