Most Recent Album Release: Systems/Layers
Christian Frederickson – viola and laptop
Edward Grimes – drums, vibes and sampler
Rachel Grimes – piano and organ
Greg King – films and keyboards
Eve Miller – cello
Jason Noble – guitar, bass, and sampler
The older I get, the more often I find myself turning to instrumental music. Maybe because I can make up my own stories and make emotional connections in a freer and more improvisational way when the music is disconnected from other peoples words. Maybe because there are times, more and more often, when I need to concentrate on my own emotions and internal affairs and good instrumental music can offer a pathway into myself. Maybe because I’ve found some incredible bands making incredible music that straddles ideas of contemporary classical with avant garde and post-rock sensibilities.
Rachel’s is one such band.
Rather than write about how I discovered the band or give brief reviews of the various albums in their catalog, I’d like to share my impressions, song by song, of the album The Sea and the Bells. Widely viewed as one of the band’s masterpieces, this album is based on Pablo Neruda’s book of poems by the same name. Because I bought it as a digital download, I don’t have—and have never read—Neruda’s poems. I am interested to see what, if any, connections there might be between Neruda’s words and my own impressions created by the music based on those words. Moreover, I hope that the images and stories conjured by the Rachel’s might inspire to you check out their music.
“Rhine & Courtesan”
Movement, travel, insistence, speed. Like a montage of hopes and dreams filled with excitement, anticipation just a hint of fear.
A creaking boat, water, where are we? lost in a time. The waves of our own memories breaking against our creaking bodies.
Movement again, now darker, a desperation we missed earlier is present and the melody is ever so bitter. The same chord structures and journey as earlier, but different. Haunted. Then fading into slow, soft, a distant dream, rising violin against music box piano broken by drums and an insistent, angry restatement of the song’s opening theme.
“The Voyage of Camille”
High yearning violins. A young girl looking out a train window as desolate landscapes pass by on her way to where? A hopeful future? The melody one of beauty and softness but not quite hope, something too dark, too sinister in the sliding notes, then small dissonances occur, growing larger. There is a promise here, but a promise of heartache and uncertainty. Her eyes are large and luminous in their dark depths as she looks about her, taking the world in and clamping down on the desire to weep. She is strong and will not break.
The music ends, but offers no resolution.
Piano and silence playing with each other, lightly, gently, in partnership. Sometimes it seems as if the silence will win until, about halfway through piece, the silence is overwhelmed and the piano rises like a wave, ebbing back ever so slightly, before flowing back with all the energy and desire of a young man searching for his destiny in a city that is strange but electrifying.
The smell of old books and worn out memories.
Smiles turned to greed. The past forcing itself into view. He doesn’t want to look, doesn’t want to remember, but the memories drum like an oncoming migraine and force him to look:
soft summers on a sweet violin that tastes of vanilla and his lover’s lips. fireflies sparkle the night. a viola like blackberry, stains her hands purple. building, building, stars turning the sky in fast forward. a lifetime in one summer. a summer in one day.
“With More Air Than Words”
Electronic sounds. High and hollow, supported by a low promise of pain. Solitude atop the world. Everything looks very far away and at the same time, held achingly close in his heart. As we seamlessly move into
“All is Calm”
But is it? A deep piano phrase keeps cutting itself off abruptly, undercutting the simple beauty and calm of the strings as they say “it’s all right. Shush my love and lay your head upon my lap and look with me at the sea as it lies bare and blue and we will feel the sun upon our skins and breathe together, you and I, until our dying days.” In her lap you forget your doubts and fears and the piano fades away and all you are left with is the scent of her skin and the light breeze in her hair and the feeling that all is well.
Then the wind picks up and the air turns wild and tosses time around. Again alone and searching and when the storm ends you find yourself in a dark wood. Nighttime and each step is a tentative one. Trembling every so slightly. Birds call out. Seagulls? A dark droning sound fills the world and you are again displaced, stolen out of time and place. This is the witches lair, the pirate’s hold, the devil’s promise. You wander blindly, feeling for a way out until you stumble into a candlelit room and there lies your lover, sleeping an unnatural sleep, caught in the grip of some sorcery. You touch hand to skin, feel love threaten to break your heart, the wind returns, finds you, turns you, takes you . . .
Smiles in a sunlit pool. Flirting eyes. Yearning.
screams and mouths full of hunger and blood coming for you, holding you tight as they descend no escape no escape
“Night at Sea”
Poseidon rumbling. Broken sounds from far away like wounded whale song. The world is deep and liquid, unfocused. You cannot breathe. You cannot cry. You are sinking. Down is up and up is down and the kelp sways like her hair once did and the bell tolls and the strings creak and you are very, very cold.
Ships bells and church bells and wind chimes all speaking of impossible distances. No matter how many letters you send, you can’t ever really go home again.
Candlight, words on heavy parchment paper, inked promises. A photograph.
“To Rest Near You.”
Thunder is fireworks is explosions is time breaking down, falling in gears and cogs in a spectacle of destruction.
Whispers and lost souls.
“The Blue-Skinned Waltz”
Swaying slow and sad, strangers once more as the waters close over our love, drowning the past even as our present is achingly dry. One last dance together, even if it is a mistake.
Looking to the horizon, he cannot focus on her gaze, cannot feel her tears, cannot hear her voice. He fills with a fountain of desire to go out there, find that something that can never be found. Journey once more to a land of beginnings and she cries gently and holds his hand for as long as he is still and then he is gone and she is left alone and his eyes never look back and never learn to truly see.
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