So much time and attention is focused on Christmas music that it’s surprising the Easter music market is so small. While there are many powerful Easter hymns and songs, very few Easter albums are released every year. And while neither of these collections, each on a fifth volume, is specifically centered on Easter, each provides a healthy serving of spiritual, meditative music: the perfect pairing to play while driving to a sunrise service, painting Easter eggs or baking hot cross buns. Christian references abound in the titles of these instrumental tracks, and the overall effect is a peace that passes understanding ~ I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.
Salt of the Sound is one of Christian music’s hidden treasures. Husband and wife duo Anita and Ben Tatlow have a dual calling to produce music for church reflection and quietude, which helps them to appeal to the larger ambient base in the same manner as bands such as Old Solar appeal to the post-rock market. On Meditations, Vol. 5, titles such as “Deep Waters” and “Known” cast a wider interpretive net than their origins in Isaiah 43:2 and 1 Corinthians 13:12, although each is a meditation on love. Amazingly, the duo’s vocal works are not that different in tone from their instrumental works, as Anita’s voice is so well integrated in the mix; those who enjoy this album, especially the wordless vocals of “Grounded,” are likely to enjoy last year’s Made Whole. In fact, the entire Echoes Blue roster is unified in tone, as evidenced here in guest appearances from Be Still the Earth, We Dream of Eden, Antarctic Wastelands, Dear Gravity and one who fits into the field beautifully, special guest pianist Simon Wester (who also played on “Sanctuary” from Made Whole). Those who enjoy the ambient passages of post-rock songs will especially like the Dear Gravity collaboration “Connection,” whose closing minute rises to heights unseen.
Many of these same artists can be heard on Echoes in the Valley, Vol. 5, released last week as a joint venture between Hong Kong’s Echoes Blue and Perth’s Valley View. This series is nature-themed, as exemplified by Antarctic Wastelands & Anita Tatlow’s “Spirit of the Forest,” a track that easily could have appeared on Meditations, Vol. 5. We Dream of Eden starts the set with the singing birds of “Leaves Breathing,” which fits beautifully with “Morning Has Broken,” a staple of Easter services. The birds stick around for other tracks, including Be Still the Earth’s “Regrown,” which also contains the sound of a soft fire and may refer to the recovery of a forest after near-destruction, a spirit after dissolution or a body after crucifixion. Then Dave Griffiths walks the “Wooded Valley” and discovers an entire biophany, and Dear Gravity takes the closing spot with the brightly-toned “Open Your Eyes,” an expansion of timbre that leaves the spirit in a restive, positive place.
Now enter the roster of Valley View Records, a mere 3733 miles/6033 km away: a label so like-minded that some artists have recorded albums for both labels and others have collaborated before. Beginning with Music Within‘s “Meltwater Forest,” one senses that these are kindred spirits; without the track listings, one would be hard-pressed to identify labels or home nations. Silent Travelers makes an impact by adding a touch of drone to “Behind a Curtain of Leaves.” Broken Peak contributes the calming “Deep into the Forest,” while Six Missing extends rest to nature in “When the Trees Sleep.” This is a good time to mention that Valley View also has its own compilation series, Sleep Cycle, the second installment just released and including many familiar names, the most prominent being Good Weather for an Airstrike. Newer artists are included on Echoes in the Valley, Vol. 5 as well, the most striking being Denmark’s Stilhed, represented here with the crashing waves of “Skjul.” Last year the duo released Tundra, inspired by their score for a documentary about Greenlandic sled dogs. Down the ambient rabbit hole we go, chasing the Easter bunny all the way.
A blessed Easter to all who celebrate it, and to all others, may this music help you find rest and peace. (Richard Allen)