Mirek Coutigny ~ Through Empty Landscapes and New Beginnings

Through Empty Landscapes and New Beginnings is a massive step forward for Mirek Coutigny.  The most obvious change is the expanded instrumentation, a team effort that grows as large as eleven.  Even the main composer, known primarily for his piano and keyboard work, adds steel drum and foot stomps.

The album was inspired by the pandemic and Station Eleven (there’s that number again), although there’s a nod to Cormac McCarthy in the track title “The Road.”  Given the post-apocalyptic setting, it’s impossible not to mention the current TV hit The Last of Us, although Coutingy avoids the zombies, cannibals and plain-bad humans, sending the album in a different direction by asking, “What kind of society would we build if we were given a blank page?”  In a way, the pandemic was that blank page.  Coutigny used that time to reinvent himself, imagining a reinvention of the world.  If so far the world has failed to respond in the collaborative manner envisioned by the composer, at least he has led by example.

The album begins in somber fashion with “Day 0” (the day the flu appears) with ominous piano and cello, radio transmissions and rising dramatic tension.  The aforementioned “The Road” tips into post-rock, a timbre stretches across “No More” and “Abandoned Houses” before shifting from fear to hope.  “We Want to Be Remembered” is the album’s centerpiece.  Emily St. John Mandel’s full quote:  “First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.”  The characters, defined by violence, yearn to be remembered for their art and kindness.  As the timbre shifts to modern composition, the listener feels the shift in perspective.  When the guitars return, there is singing as well, an aural representation of the Traveling Symphony.  “Survival Is Insufficient,” the main caravan reads.  Coutigny’s track of the same name introduces a melancholy undercurrent that gives way to triumph as the players remember what makes them human.

The hopeful LP title Through Empty Landscapes and New Beginnings underlines the breadth of possibility.  When Ella Vermeir sings of starting anew on “New World,” she is really referring to a new perspective on an old world.  Did the pandemic change our trajectory as a species?  After all the railing and rioting and finger-pointing, have we taken a breath to consider what is important, and how we will be remembered?  Coutigny suggests that there is still time, although possibly not much time, to chart a new beginning, rather than to have one forced upon us.  (Richard Allen)

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