In Rotation: Emily Jane White, Yagya, Trance to the Sun, 1 Mile North (Review)

Dark-tinged folk balladry, spacey techno from Iceland, goth-y psychedelia, and stripped down post-rock.
Emily Jane White

In Rotation is a regular Opus feature where I post short reviews of noteworthy music, both new and old, that I’ve been listening to lately.

They Moved in Shadow All Together by Emily Jane White

They Moved in Shadow All Together - Emily Jane White

First, some context. The title of Emily Jane White’s They Moved in Shadow All Together comes from Cormac McCarthy’s Outer Dark. The album deals with concepts including “the symptomatology of trauma” and “the impact of trauma on individual and collective identity.” Finally, White tackles weighty topics including racism (“The Black Dove”) and violence against women (“Womankind”).

Suffice to say, They Moved in Shadow All Together is dark and even ominous at times, with White’s polyvocal arrangements, Nick Ott’s booming percussion, and Shawn Alpay’s bass and cello adding to that effect. However, there’s a grace in the midst of that darkness that’s arresting and spellbinding. Despite their heaviness, White’s songs never plod but rather, float and drift effortlessly.

Opening track “Frozen Garden” is a perfect example of this. Over a folksy guitar melody, White weaves together layers of her haunting voice to sing about hurt, betrayal, abandonment (“So lead me down to the dusty garden/Overgrown aged and rotten/And here they lie, children forsaken/And I see myself as one among them”) — and in the song’s gorgeous, cello-blessed finale, even the possibility of forgiveness.

Stars and Dust by Yagya

Stars and Dust - Yagya

The atmospheric techno that Aðalsteinn Guðmundsson creates under the Yagya moniker exists somewhere between Bvdub’s euphoric ambient house and the chillier, more subdued sounds of Echospace and Deepchord. As such, it can be easy to overlook — and truth be told, I was more than content to let Stars and Dust settle comfortably into the background during my initial listens.

Yagya’s music is deceptive, though. Guðmundsson’s beats and ambient drifts certainly make for nice aural wallpaper while, say, blogging or coding at 2:00 am. But it can surprise you. Even after I thought I had Stars and Dust figured out, new details kept coming to my attention, like the blend of dubby reverberations and angelic vocals on “Motes in the Moonlight” or “Young Suns of NGC 7129”’s melancholy piano refrain.

Stars and Dust’s finest moment occurs during “Through the Sculptor Group” (most of the song titles reference astronomical terms and phenomena) as an eerie melody slowly makes its presence felt amidst pulsing beats and gaseous synth swirls. It’s a minor detail but one executed so flawlessly that the minute you hear it, it totally transforms the song — and makes you reevaluate everything you’ve heard so far.

Via Subterranea by Trance to the Sun

Via Subterranea - Trance to the Sun

On Via Subterranea, their first full-length since 2001’s Atrocious Virgin, Portland’s Trance to the Sun conjures up a heady blend of goth, shoegaze, and psychedelia that brings to mind even such a landmark album as The Cure’s Disintegration.

Like Robert Smith’s magnum opus, there’s a commitment on the part of Trance to the Sun to go big or go home. Ingrid Luna Blue’s voice is coy, ethereal, and sultry, delivering abstract lyrics like “I could disrupt the orbit of your distant molten eye” and even garden gnome-inspired streams-of-consciousness. Meanwhile, Ashkelon Sain’s guitar evokes middle-eastern textures, tears through soaring solos, and delivers haunting ambience — sometimes all in the same song. (To continue with the Disintegration comparison, think “Prayers for Rain” or “Homesick” rather than, say, “Lovesong.”)

“Aviatrix (The Sudden Birds)” is a personal favorite. Sain’s guitar is at its trippiest even as the rhythms (anchored by Daniel Henderson’s drumming) evoke classic Cure-ish gloom. At nine minutes, it’s not for the faint of heart, but if you’ve been looking for the kind of ostentatious (I mean that in a good way) dark rock epic that goths don’t seem to make any more, then you’re in for a treat.

Awakened by Decay by 1 Mile North

Awakened by Decay - 1 Mile North

After releasing the excellent Minor Shadows LP in 2003, 1 Mile North faded into oblivion. Which was disappointing but given their music’s drifting, ephemeral nature, such a disappearance seemed… appropriate. (Though that didn’t prevent me from trying to figure out what the band was up to in following years.) Return to the present day, and the post-rock outfit are back with Awakened by Decay, which takes a turn for a more spartan, ascetic sound.

That stripping away represents both a plus and a minus. On the plus side, the enigmatic outfit is still capable of creating haunting, textured post-rock in the vein of Labradford through fluid guitar lines, loping bass, and hazy background drones (e.g., “Rocky Beaches,” “November,” “Underground Waves”). On the minus side, the starker sonic palette means that Awakened by Decay lacks the gentle atmospherics that flowed through Minor Shadows, giving that album its wistful, melancholy — and emotionally affecting — cast.

Relatively speaking, Awakened by Decay represents a more demanding listen even though the music’s still more ambient than 95% of what you’ll find out there. It’s not as immediately inviting as Minor Shadows despite sharing similar musical DNA, but patient listeners can still find much to appreciate within its 68 minutes.