Stephen Shannon ~ Fathoms

Many are familiar with Stephen Shannon‘s work without knowing Stephen Shannon.  The artist has previously recorded as Mount Alaska, Strands and Halfset, and recorded a healthy number of TV and film scores.  Others arriving at this project may be familiar with Crash Ensemble, who lends a string quartet to Fathoms, making this set the best of both worlds, straddling the fields of modern composition and electronics.

The first two songs epitomize the poles.  “Past Tense” is a gorgeous, string-laden piece, soaked in cinematic melancholy, highlighting Shannon’s filmic backdrop.  But “Le Diagonale” bubbles like a Eurythmics track, as melodic, upbeat 80s synth exposes the composer’s musical taste.  For a while, the pas-de-deux unfolds predictably ~ the next track piano-centric, the next synth-centric ~ but on “Eyot,” the strings seep through the electronics and win their own organic segment.  Over the course of the set, the two influences grow progressively more integrated.

The combination of “Past Tense” and “The Manes” should be enough to convince studios to hire Shannon and Crash Ensemble right away.  But the flow of the album – “The Manes” subsiding into “On the Horizon” – makes it a beautiful home listening experience.  Flipping the script, the synth nudges its way into the ivory like an insistent cat.  One starts to notice the title and cover art, with paper cutouts descending through the olive murk to discover surprisingly colorful depths.  Time and loss factor strongly, as the album was composed during a period of sorrowful reflection.  The sparkle of the subdued title track symbolizes the first glimmers of light.  The music brightens on “The Last Bend,” as if swimming toward the sun; the triumphant three-note motif of “Root and Branch” implies that the swimmer has broken the surface.

Midway through “Aqueous” the music pauses, as if looking back one last time before heading forward.  It’s hard to let go of the past.  It seems easier to stay in the depths.  Sometimes going deeper into sorrow is the way out of sorrow, a counter-intuitive approach epitomized here.  In “And Out Of Night Comes Day,” the focus shifts from fathoms to fathoming.  (Richard Allen)

Stream “Eyot” here

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