A hazy black and white photo of a beachfront scene, with bathers in clusters, on shore and in the water. Is this a vacation photo from a bygone era? A decaying artifact from a long-lost film? The cover of k.burwash’s Holding Air is both inscrutable and familiar, a typical photograph turned into hazy memory by time, editing, or both.
Many works of art have been made in the name of processing the past, of coming to terms with the ultimate failure of memory to help us fully understand our own histories. In the liner notes, k.burwash describes each track as a collection of notes, melodies, emotions, and memories that, over periods of working and reworking, become eroded, rearranged, and reorganized into finished objects. As the blurry, indistinct, yet subtly nostalgic cover suggests, the goal of Holding Air is, in the artist’s words, to recall “forgotten places” and “lost times through a cracked lens.”
There is a time-worn, eroding quality to the music. A steady filter of white noise, hissing static, and echoing reverb pervades the album’s nine tracks. With a minimal palette of rounded electronic plunks and warbling long-tones, the album creates small capsules of memory by wielding reverb, delay, distortion, and looping to great effect. The result is a distinctly melancholy, nostalgic, and reflective exploration of an unknowable past, an entire inner life boiled down to a cohesive forty minutes of vibrating air.
“Flowers on the Sun” sets the pace, with slow-moving melodies and fragments that loop, stretch, shimmer, and overlap. Swelling into the foreground, cycling, irregular rhythms keep things moving, while longer, deeper tones provide a subtle harmonic flow. From this basic template, each track defines itself mostly via small variations in harmony, density, and timbre. “Through the Trees,” for instance, provides the contrast of a more stripped back, long-tone centered spaciness, yet it ultimately bleeds together with similarly minimal tracks like “Suspension of Belief” or “Oceans of Dust.” The influences are many: “Last Yesterday,” for instance, is reminiscent of the hip-hop inspired, looping textures of Huerco S., while “Slow Days” offers an edge of distortion to its introspection that could fit in snugly on Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath, 1972.
Still, standout tracks like “Last Yesterday” and the title track add compelling new chapters to the long-running project of self-reflection through music. When taken as a whole, the album is a carefully defined sound-world that ultimately succeeds in metaphorizing the past, a look into the passing feelings of a stranger with an entire history of their own. Remembering, it suggests, is as easy as snapping a picture, yet as futile and fleeting as holding air. (Peter Tracy)