Seven Principles Of Leave No Trace
ight spreads out like a vast dark veil speckled with silver. A window ledge of lopsided angles gives unto cryptic cookie-cutter bird shapes, which flit by a sky brimming with duskiness like magic lanterns; a window ledge distinctly hand-drawn, unable to be opened and not actually there gives unto something that is nevertheless active and alive.
The angles are out of joint, the proportions irregular, the sky stained by blotches; still the birds flutter along in meditation. And yet in this room there is no shadow to be seen. All is exposed, naked, with no corner or shadow behind which to take shelter.
Seven Principles Of Leave No Trace is an apt aural articulation of these deviant images enclosed in the artwork designed by Carla Gannis. Julia Frodahl, her voice a warbling throaty coo, mimics those musing birds, as she glides atop the wispy breathes of violin, cello, piano and ambient noise as they disappear into one another like people down a dark alleyway. Similar to those windows, these nine pieces are constructed sporadically: song structures resemble traditional forms, but deviate in subtle manners. Chopped, chiming piano tones often stray from rhythm and melody to slumber in a soft bed of resonant drones; instrumental pieces veer into post-rock repetition, with the plodding piano and vacillating violin scrapings wedged in a game of chess, each trying to avoid creative checkmate; meanwhile, songs hung on structural precedents of verse/chorus/verse still find themselves falling loose and into extended passages awash of iridescent textures and neo-Classical hues. Indeed, unlike previous efforts, this marks a notable shift away from conventional instrumentation and composition, into overtly expressive, frictional and dramatic territories, favoring rich textures that modify mood as much as direction.
Compositions such as “Muted Thunderstorms” and the title track, evoke brilliant contrasts of color and subtle shading, skillfully modulated relationships among densities and textures and expertise in spatial placement. The inventive harmonization of percussive sounds produces unusual kinds of mobility and suppleness. Bowing or plucking, the bucolic guitar of “Shirts For Pennies” draws melodic threads through the readily accommodating percussive fabric, or finds various other means to add weight and mass, further accentuating the variegated surface or intensifying its coloration. Other pieces, namely “Rio Abajo Rio”, employs a drug-slurred cello and off-kilter piano motif, crafting a feeling of agoraphobic dread heightened by the hushed tones and the dense weave of the arrangements. Such attention to textural detail and low-key bravura in the deployment of a small pool of instruments recorded in a variety of ambiences makes Seven Principles Of Leave No Trace a sensuous and moving listening experience.
But it’s Frodahl’s voice that completes the compositions and makes them whole. “Like A Jewel” sees Frodahl bemoan the frustrated yearnings of one who wishes for a life different from the one in which they see themselves as trapped within. Her syrupy voice in the mould of said story provides a lovely accomplyment to the slow, dreamy waltz performed by cello and mellotron, which supply a warm and sturdy core, fed by occasional samples around the periphery. “Fiction” unreels swift lines and linked strings of notes that very effectively ride the weary scuttle of Frodahl’s gorgeous piano; yet, for this moment, her words shine: “there are still lots of days / Don’t you waste them / Broken down fairy tales, did they get your part wrong / The same fiction / What about here, what about life / Your all on your own / Oh you dream dreamer, you story book maker / I understand”.
And while Edison Woods tends to outline the ways in which one tries to secretly be rid of oneself, as well as use reflection as a means to avoid action, unlike so many, they venture a trifle beyond mere description and endeavor to craft a possible path back towards life. All of which makes Seven Principles of Leave No Trace something of an invaluable document.
Reviewed by: Max Schaefer
Reviewed on: 2004-09-22