Memories Fade Under a Shallow Autumn Snow by Language Of Landscape (Review)

Memories Fade Under A Shallow Autumn Snow creates contemplative, evocative soundscapes out of gentle guitar drones and sparse piano arrangements.
Memories Fade Under a Shallow Autumn Snow - Language of Landscape

It’s the middle of March, and we’re finally experiencing a gorgeous spring day here in Lincoln. The skies are blue and full of sunshine, kids are in the park, and the temperature is in the mid-60s. In other words, about as perfect a day as you can imagine, and you’d think I’d be enjoying some appropriately shiny, jangly music full of cheery hooks and effervescent melodies. But if you’ve any knowledge of the music that Opus has tended to focus on over the last few years, then it shouldn’t really surprise you that I’m listening to an album entitled Memories Fade Under a Shallow Autumn Snow, and yes, it sounds like you think it would based on the title alone.

Working under the Language of Landscape moniker, Chris Tenz and Cory Zaradur bring together the austere ambience of Stars of the Lid with the similar austerity that can be heard in Arvo Pärt and Max Richter’s most sublime compositions. The result is music that slowly envelopes the listener with gentle guitar drones and sparse-yet-evocative piano arrangements, that slowly drifts down around you like, well, a shallow autumn snow.

The album opens with a graceful lament: on “And The Rain Embraced Our Closing Words,” the duo’s guitar and piano slowly intertwine with each other, but only just barely, as if each instrument is afraid to get too close lest their fragile sounds damage the other’s. Several prolonged moments of silence appear, each one a “pillow moment.” Here, I refer to Ebert’s term for those seemingly innocuous scenes of minutiae that can often be found in Japanese cinema, and which provide viewers with a moment to reflect and contemplate what has transpired so far.

Indeed, the entire song is a deeply contemplative piece that remains involving throughout its nearly fifteen minutes, its minimalism compelling you to sit down, shut up, and listen more closely (this is an album that definitely merits headphone listening). So much so, that it’s rather jarring when the song is abruptly cut off in mid-drift.

“Contemplating Departure In Wake of Clear Light” almost immediately submerges the listener in a darker place. Lush synthwork surround the listener that, while not exactly ominous, are certainly a good shade or two murkier than the delicate piano notes of the preceding track. Vocal samples can be heard on the periphery, further adding to the other-worldliness and alienation, as do the omnipresent guitar drones. In the song’s second half, the duo reintroduces the piano motif from “And The Rain Embraced Our Closing Words” for a short time, albeit in a heavier, more resonant form, as if it has survived the abrupt cut-off and emerged from the preceding murkiness with renewed vigor.

Tenz and Zaradur again revisit the musical motifs from the first track on “Speaking Between Truth and Denial,” though this time the piano is the focus, and more dominant as a result (though in music this minimal and delicate, “dominant” is a relative term). The reuse of musical motifs — e.g., the same fragile piano refrains, familiar guitar drones — lends the music a stirring nostalgia that fits right in with the themes conjured up by the album’s titles (e.g., memories, the passage of time).

Each time the elements return, or re-emerge from the pillow moments that are sprinkled throughout the album, even in the slight forms that they inhabit at times, they imply longlost memories re-emerging from the subconscious, and the intermingling of joy and heartache that is often present in such moments.

What is most remarkable about Memories Fade Under a Shallow Autumn Snow is how involving it is. Given that the album consists of three tracks, all of which are around fifteen minutes in length, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it sinks into the background after awhile, like ambient music is supposed to. But I find that, even if I intend to listen to it as background music, Memories Fade Under A Shallow Autumn Snow has a way of capturing and holding my attention. This is due to the duo’s determined and studied minimalism that makes each drone, each echoing piano note, and each subtle sonic shift pregnant with emotion and subsequently, that much more difficult to ignore.

Which is to say that it’s very difficult to ignore the emotional heft and weight of the music here. While I tend to appreciate Stars of the Lid, Language of Landscape’s most obvious reference point, on a more cerebral level, I find these three songs to be deeply emotional, reverent, and haunting. As such, I find it appropriate and welcome music most any time — regardless of whatever the weather outside my window might deem as more suitable listening material.

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