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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Album Review: All Saints' Day by The New Heaven and The New Earth

I didn't know there was an old heaven and an old earth before I reached the new ones with the unexpected album All Saints' Day released in 2009. This collection of six songs handles itself much like a stranger at a street fair, propelled on by it's hunger and emptiness, yet tragically beautiful as a natural beast that is perpetually stuck. They sing as if they have found scraps for dinner, and eat, all the while knowing it's rotten. The cellos shift gracefully as only a bleeding heart can shift through moments and days and years. Accompanied by beautiful chords and simple slow beats, portraits of low poignant freckles of time frozen by myth and melody. It is sad, luring, and yet still shines light, demonstrating the delicate partnership between hope and fear.

Noah, the first track gives a powerful kick start to the album and is a mix between a 70's acid trip and a Sunday afternoon at church. The cellos and angelic background choir give it a forceful yet graceful balance that sets the stage for the rest of the songs. It almost sounds as if it starts out in the middle of the track which gave little room for a climax, however, the whole 3 minutes is dramatic through the breezy vocals and harmonies.

Dry Stalk lives up to its name and instantly sounds like it is off of The Royal Tenebaum's soundtrack. It is dry and slow in an interesting and offbeat way that tells of a slowly recovering heartache. The male backing vocals are a perfect choice in this short (2 and a half minutes!) track, packing a certain quality I can't put my finger on. They sing "do-do-do-do-doo" with a shy awkward tinge - reminiscent perhaps of someone with incredible talents that is overshadowed by perceived imperfections. Its modest instruments and melodies create such sympathy for the dried up used stalk of a man, while the bells and chorus give hope, only to be dashed on contradiction and held together by its own sick cycle.

Simon sounds like second wind extension to its previous neighboring track. It starts out with tambourine shakes and the choir crying out with pain like flailing souls trapped half in the sand. This nearly five minute song provides some of the most interesting and well done vocals on the album. They don't shake in syllables but in whole, each word ending like a cliff, mountains filling up even my mouth. The song progression is like a roller coaster, allowing the vocals to take stage as a harpsichord, sad organ, and tambourine provide the simple tune throughout the verse, allowing the bridges to provide the sweeping punch of a rooted gospel. Two minutes in, the bells chime and the tambourine is accompanied by chilling lyrics and climaxes into an orchestra of sound where the voices take shape as instruments themselves.

After a long pause, the soft piano starts. Tori Amos and PJ Harvey's love child climbs through the speakers and leaves the windows open, the cold winter breeze blowing through. St. Valentine is my favorite song and an excellent fourth track to give fresh breath to the album. The shifting sounds and reckless instruments near the end are like ghosts, mindless in their habitual echos. Yet, something beautiful is created and harnessed, leaving a craving after its short two minutes. It is like a lucid dream, haunting and stunning.

With a Mark Lanegan's guitar and Radiohead's melodic vocals, Santa Muerte is sad and reflective. It imagines life outside of our present constraints, welcoming the future as a replacement. However hopeful the lyrics might be, the reality is the darkness of the present and the pain of hope. The cellos offer a deep contrast to the guitar melodies and show the depressing acceptance of such a life.

St. Francis highlights a new vocal sound with raspy voice talk telling us "it's not cocaine", but its surely something. This haunting final track is simple at the beginning with raising and falling single tones like the bending of the earth. Then the juxtaposition of a strong single tone strum, followed by a pause then a strum, then a pause, then a strum like the forever eventual breaking of the earth. All sprinkled by the pained singing of a burdened soul. The climax is a beautiful collision of every aspect. The symbols crash like the unknowing angry ocean on jagged rocks, like saints finally opening up their wrists to find it's only their blood in there, "we're not men, we can't pretend that we are fish and marry prophets anymore." Ending in a heavy solo guitar and the sadly building purge of hope and fear and the drugged waltz that all prophets must perfect, dragging all the way up to the earth from heaven.

If you can't tell, I quit enjoyed this little collection from an artist unknown to me. I listened to it while figuring out my terrifying finances and it even helped keep my blood pressure low. It spreads like depression, heavy in afterglow and calm as a diabetic baking a pie. The short length of Dry Stalk and St. Valentine left me wondering where the rest of the song was and some of the tracks had a little lack of dramatics, but it left a definite good imprint. Overall, it reminds me of Muse - that is in a different state of grief. This is Muse after they get over the anger and find themselves in the purgatory of denial, isolation, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Sirens can be hidden in the keys of a piano and behind the strings of a cello, lighthouses of destruction and beauty that live inside all of us - you know you can relate.

The New Heaven & The New Earth

The New Heaven & The New Earth
St. Valentine

(songs used with permission)
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