Is this a shameless marketing ploy?
For fans of Warren Defever and His Name Is Alive, a collection of juvenilia might raise alarms; is this a shameless marketing ploy? A way to generate a little more income during a dry compositional period from an artist somewhat notorious for playing fast and loose with the facts? Thankfully, nothing could be further from the truth. One might expect nascent sketches and short pieces that with a little aural squinting might just hint at what Defever would go on to compose; what is delivered instead is flowing spectral soundscape that confidently utilizes a range of sound sources and field recordings. This release, the first of three proposed volumes through Disciples, is a highly contemporary collection of ambient compositions that draws from the same sonic palate as other landmarks in ambient music. But it also carves out something uniquely its own. All the Mirrors in the House is at once pleasingly familiar and strange and new.
Sounds are processed, gently distorted and echoed beyond their original lengths into sustained and modulated ghosts of their sources. These pulse slowly through phrases that sometimes repeat with a hint of recognizable song-like form, but more often evolve over the length of each piece towards the transition with the next track. The effect is less a collection of songs and more of a concerted and unified soundscape that points to a central fascination with timbres and the possibilities of sound in the creation of highly effective sonic environments.
“Rememory” echoes Harold Budd’s “The Gunfighter” from Lovely Thunder, the glacial pacing and tonal architecture of single piano notes held while a gentle filigree of other slight sounds scatters across the soundscape. “Fine as Feathers,” with its Cocteau Twins-like title and hint of a voice buried deep beneath the granular drones, continues the theme of slow evolution and decay where notes arrive gradually and are overtaken by the next in succession. In comparison, “Guitar Rev.” and “Tape Slow” conjure the work of Jóhann Jóhannsson and wouldn’t be out of place on the Mandy soundtrack, or accompanying a contemplative moment in The Arrival. “Because Piano” similarly traces a Budd-like repetition but introduces the kinds of play with heavily reverbed piano that a composer like William Basinski might utilize. “Echo Lake” mixes field recordings with sustained drones, perhaps bowed strings, and echoed percussive elements and “Something about Hope” utilizes multi-tracked plucked guitar lines to explore, almost mathematically and in the style of Loren Connors, limited phrases that overlap and loop, the precision of the repetition disrupted by slightly off-beat pauses between some notes and not others.
The material collected for All the Mirrors in the House was recorded on primitive equipment, starting when Defever was 10 until he was 17. What’s highlighted here is not just his skill in using sound to create a world of experiences and emotions, but also, and especially, how Defever hears the world itself, in all of its cacophonous and generative majesty. These pieces acknowledge sounds outside of the fact of their production, loosed from the objects that generate them. Tape noise is as much a compositional element as a strummed, plucked or stroked guitar or a hammered piano key, waves lapping at a lake shore as meaningful as random objects dropped onto hard surfaces, and all are treated equally, used to realize the highly internal soundscape that is his. Overall, this first volume provides a highly cinematic experience. The pieces have a coherence to them, absolutely highlighted by their ordering and the fact that there are no track breaks (on the vinyl release, at least). The crossfades between compositions suggest that they’re meant to be considered as a unified collection, part of a single story. This is an album in no hurry and one so comprehensively cinematic in its feel and cohesive in the relationship of the parts to the whole that it’s difficult to really consider it as a collection of archived sketches. If these pieces are youthful experiments and past hints at future glories, they’re also fully-formed and quite beautiful musical moments in their own right.