Various Artists ~ String Layers Vol. II

21 artists, 90 minutes of strings, all exclusive to this release ~ fans of modern composition, rejoice!  We’re delighted to see so many names familiar to our site, including relative newcomers Toechter and Justina Jaruševičiūtė alongside stalwarts such as Julia Kent and Clarice Jensen, whose tracks were the album’s early preview pieces.  But there’s plenty more to discover here.  Devotees will learn new names, and wonder how they have been missed.

While the compilation ticks off a number of boxes essential to such a collection ~ exclusivity, creativity, quality ~ the stated purpose of String Layers Vol. II is to highlight the variety of the orchestral staple.  The set begins in accessible fashion, as Kent’s “Echo of Wings” eases listeners into the deep sounds of the cello.  Kent was once affiliated with Antony and the Johnsons, which may serve as a selling point for newcomers.  Then comes Sophia Jani, whose debut LP we reviewed last season, “Tulips” rife with keys, a continuation of the artist’s love for spring.  We’d have been happy with an entire set like this, sinking into the serenade; but the album is not content to sit on its laurels.

Field Kit’s “Seismic” provides the first evidence that the set will stretch beyond melody, as plucked strings are joined by static charges and steam ventings.  The deeper one walks into this forest, the less familiar it becomes.  Clarice Jensen continues the theme of “Seismic” with even deeper drones, ironically stretching toward the heavens; “Steeple” mirrors the lowest pedals on a church organ.  In few parts of the multiverse would this be a hit; the track expands the expectations of what a “string album” should sound like.  Rooydad’s mournful “I Could Have Lived Differently” briefly restores the balance before Federico Bisozzi shatters the template with electronics.

This dance continues as the light is hidden by ever thicker trees.  Jessica Moss’ “Trapped Cycle” is foreboding, a warning to turn back even after the sign markers have been lost.  Intrigue rises as accessibility fades.  Toechter adds voice to “filiabilia,” between siren and sprite; either way, one is tempted to follow the voice off the path, but suspects one should not.  If the album has a center, it arrives at “filiabilia”s four-minute mark with preliminary impressions of returning light.  Even so, listeners must pursue these flickering glimmers through the thicket of Otto Lindholm’s “Carnac” before collapsing on the gentle barley of Wyldest’s “Rainbow Utopia.”  After this, the album feels free to frolic, showcasing tanbur, guitar and harp on the final four tracks.  Only after exiting the forest does the traveler realize that the guide has never let go of their hand.  (Richard Allen)

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