This is a slightly more subdued set than we’re used to hearing from the collective, although COVID seems to have affected everyone that way. The album still has beats and beeps, and we can still dance to them, but this time the intricate sound design is the draw.
Only one of the eight tracks is radio length, the others stretching as far as the ten-minute mark, content to develop a mood and rest there for a spell. The bright-toned opener, “March for Salt Over Gold,” slowly introduces new elements ~ vibraphone, strings, alternate percussion ~ growing patiently like a blossom in spring. “Your National Pride Is Hidden Lonely Grief” sounds as mournful as its title, a tennis game unfolding in the background with the squeaks of sneakers and the sound of a racket, but no conversation, as if a person is playing alone. As the music rises to envelop the speakers, one feels a great sense of consolation. Just in time, old friends Haiku Salut ~ who most famously collaborated with Jilk on “Periscopes” ~ ease into the haunted bedroom. At first, “Come Back Soft” is an empty space, in which one can hear even the sparks and wires. As befits the title, the expanded collective begins to paint, decorating the walls with instrument after instrument, beats after three minutes, trumpet when the primer has dried. Halfway through, the band resets, recalibrates, and restarts, producing the album’s finest moment: the crossing gate lowers, the warning bell rings, the train approaches and the music explodes.
While listening to the title track, “Hope Springs in Haunted Bedrooms,” it’s easy to imagine how the track might have been pumped up to club strength. But like so much of the music produced during the past two years, it seems more like indoor music, the hope a quiet resolve rather than a happy outpouring. A vocal chorus repeats like a mantra, a phrase to get one through. Not until the sixth track do verses appear, courtesy of Kayla Painter, who helped make “Pause the Clocks for Women in Love” the highlight of last year’s Welcome Lies. The new work is a different beast, dub-inflected with a touch of saxophone. Nuala Honan follows on a chime-led lullaby possessing a morbid title (“Carrie Grave Hand”), the sixth minute presenting the band in its fullest form, as if someone had just found the old family guitar in the basement and plugged it in. We’ve all been slow to leave our haunted bedrooms. This album sounds like the first steps to the front door, the opening of the screen and a first tentative step to the walk. With such gentle encouragement, we might meet in the park, compare stories, and plant the year’s first trees. (Richard Allen)