17th Sep 2014
As a follow-up to the last piece I wrote on William Ryan Fritch’s EP Heavy, I thought it would be a good idea to point heads towards the California-based composer’s latest project with Jon Mueller of Volcano Choir.
Ensemble, a nine-track album of varying song lengths, is, like Heavy, a structurally complex, epic journey through the see-saw of life’s unpredictable and varying conditions, resulting in a hugely affirmative work.
Its second track, Participant, has some of the childlike joy and wide-eyed innocence of certain movie scores from recent years, the likes of Beasts of the Southern Wild – although this is undercut by menacing, reverb-laden guitar which lurks in the landscape’s periphery throughout Ensemble – while the opener’s tribal chants funnel through detectable strains from both artists’ previous oeuvres. From the mournful cries at the end of Loss, to the spine-tingling shrieks and shrills of the strings in Unseen, and the ecstatic rediscovery of life in Reentry, Languaging and Obtain, this record is a protracted crossing over through the material and the spiritual; a passage through life and death, and back again. There’s a real sense of triumph on the final song of the LP, Onward, as its slow, emphatic percussion signals the end of a striated and visceral listening experience.
The culmination of a succession of various releases, this project is more than just a purely audio experience, with Ensemble lending some of the cross-media, all-embracing scope of Fritch’s recent work, as indicated by its variety of accompanying artwork. The Rhythmplex (Mueller’s personal website) page for the album goes into some detail regarding the gestation and overall nature of the work, stating:
“[that the] project has used sound, performance, and concept to explore ideas around presence and experience. This work culminates in the release of Ensemble, an elaborate book/LP/digital release that features seven essays about our vulnerability, the rawness of our inner lives, and how we move forward in the face of it all”
This informs the roaming, multi-faceted nature of Ensemble – tending at certain points towards the ineffable but always remaining rooted to its emotionally-driven centre point – as well as the appropriately maximal aesthetic of the record as a whole. Its themes are grand and ambitious, but the LP carries them off impressively and with a drive that doesn’t feel laboured, even if the subject matter sometimes is. Like any successful album and collaboration, this is a good deal more than the sum of its individual parts (relating to the input of each artist, as well as the collection of songs) and is more than well-deserving of listeners’ attentions – whether as an evening record or as a soundtrack to a walk, this is a great restorative to the dip of autumn and the first leg of the year’s declining arc. Ensemble was released less than a week ago, on 9th September.