Davachi’s music feels surreal.
After releasing the incredible Let Night Come on Bells End the Day in April, Sarah Davachi rounds out the year with Gave in Rest, a record of droning electroacoustic pieces that toy with the listener’s perception. Each track title derives from the regimented prayer schedules of medieval monks and the accompanying music mirrors that reflective, solitary atmosphere. Davachi’s approach here is subtle, sometimes so much so that any sense of change or development threatens to vanish in favor of an encompassing sound world.
At the heart of Gave in Rest is a tension between Davachi’s expansive, immersive sound design and her delicate compositional approach. For every moment that feels like a towering construction, there’s a jarring transition that breaks any sense of hypnosis. The opener, “Auster,” cements the contrasts inherent in the album’s style. After opening with a clear, sonorous organ tone, the composition proceeds with a series of alternating high and low harmonies with unexpected bits of silence between them. The cutoffs are so abrupt that it was tempting to make sure the audio player was still working properly, and even after multiple listens the effect is no less unsettling.
Moments where Davachi’s hand is made visible reaffirm the studio-constructed nature of her music. While the overall feeling of Gave in Rest is one of drifting tones, chocking the music up to natural ebb-and-flow would underestimate how carefully and meticulously Davachi constructs and arranges her music. Sometimes, like the final minute of wordless vocals on “Evensong,” the changes are so subtle that it’s a tossup as to whether anything actually shifts or it’s just the listener’s mind filling in the space with auditory illusions. This makes Davachi’s music feel surreal, and much of the success of the album comes when there’s no clear answer to what exactly is coming through the speakers.
Sometimes, though, this focus on the infinitesimal leads to less powerful music. “Matins” begins with one of the most evocative worlds on Gave in Rest, placing knocked wood and scraped strings atop a thunderous drone that hangs on the verge of inaudibility. The track eventually progresses into a pleasant, almost sedative mix of piano and strings that feels less and less potent as it drones on for minutes. “Gilded” is marred by the opposite problem, where the ghostly moans and reedy drones aren’t given nearly enough time to develop. Just as the line between warm nostalgia and a chilling haunt begins to blur, the music fades out without letting the tensions resolve.
These missteps, though, don’t detract from the album’s success as a whole, especially as they really only show upon the closest examination. It’s only because of how successfully measured the harmonic development is at the end of “Gloaming” that “Matins”—an ace in anyone else’s book—feels slightly underwhelming. “Waking,” though just as short as “Gilded,” offers a satisfying conclusion to the album. It capitalizes on Davachi’s excellent production and mixing skills, complicating any traditional sense of melody-and-accompaniment arrangement through a shifting conflict between stasis and restlessness. Gave in Rest may not have the same baffling intrigue of All My Circles Run or the nocturnal beauty of Let Night Come on Bells End the Day, but it continues to refine one of the key tenets of Davachi’s style: a constant striving for a balance between heady experimentalism and a need to turn these experiments into a legitimate form of expression.