With a stream of highly acclaimed albums already under her belt, Megan Mitchell (Cruel Diagonals) has made an extreme shift on Fractured Whole, resulting in the finest album of her young career. Every sound, even those that come across as drones or drums, is produced by Mitchell’s voice. The set faces inward and outward at the same time: seeking, stretching, yearning. Like Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance, Mitchell attempts to connect with the divine, while simultaneously serving as its vessel.
The opening “Penance” sounds like a choir backed with organ and circuitboard, already fooling the ears. This multi-layered piece is astonishing in its range. As the track progresses, the darkness descends, turning sorrow to self-subjugation, an echo of what the artist is doing with her voice. Mitchell is prying apart the pieces of her fractured whole, examining each facet to glean internal mysteries. Midway through “Precipice 1,” she turns to the timbres that have made her famous; for a brief period, the listener considers dancing, while wondering at the genesis of the sounds. But then Mitchell retracts. “Lament” communicates deep grief that may stem from injury or loss; yet here she defines her own story, a powerful reclamation. After crossing the deep divide of “Inurement,” she reaches “Reconciliation,” which seems to refer to self-acceptance: the pieces of a soul are stitched back together, past and present, shame and grace, voice and timbre. The album’s most triumphant moments arrive in the fifth minute in a flurry of syncopation.
And yet, recovery is not a straight line, as demonstrated in “Heavy Is The Sea.” As much as one wants to put the past behind, the healthier approach is to integrate the past and present, which is exactly what Mitchell is doing here. The album ends on a note that is open to interpretation. As a title, “Decimated Whole” seems far darker than fractured whole, save for the fact that Mitchell is doing the decimating. As the timbre disintegrates from clear voice to factory crunch, it seems her persona is disappearing. And yet in compositional terms, the opposite is occurring. The thickest density of voice-based sound arrives at the very end of the album, suggesting that the pieces have been reassembled to Mitchell’s liking. What the listener hears as distortion, Mitchell presents as power: a declarative statement of hard-earned confidence. (Richard Allen)