The Raven’s Advice
A bird, nestled in the branches of a tree
On a cold, windless night this all came to be
A raven it was, a shadowy figure
Looked me right in the eyes and beckoned to me
It sang me a song full of sorrow and woe
Of terror, perplexion that bothered it so
And many a thing which on hearts heavy lies
To give me a moral before I should go
‘Young mister’, it ended, ‘whatever you say
Whatever you think on your perilous way
No matter how silent and dark the night seems
The brighter you see on the following day’
The album I am about to review, the one that indeed inspired me to write the poem above, is one whose perceived message is hidden even within its very title. It tells you that to every darkness, there is a light; to every silence, there is a sound; and to every ambiguity, there is a clarity. Life is never only black or white, and neither are our experiences within it.
But enough waxing poetic; this is supposed to be about music, damn it! And luckily enough, raven has (I’m using the singular here, because this is the solo venture of Australian cellist Peter Hollo, originally founded in 1997) given us a lot to discover on that front as well, deftly weaving an aural tapestry from the musical strands of chamber music, ambient, post-rock, drone and folktronica.
Opening with “lockstep” (which funnily comes before the more aptly titled “begin”) was a good choice in terms of pacing and introduction, since it represents a good portion of the sounds you are going to hear in the next hour or so. Providing the looped bass line, which is going to carry on throughout the whole track, as well as the melody lines with his cello alone, stacking different layers of loops over one another, Hollo creates an interesting, textured soundscape. It goes to show what you can do with only a single instrument and a bit of creative looping if you really put your mind to it.
“descent” on the other hand serves as a handy reminder that this record does have a way more brooding, dark side to it, too. Not the kind of oppressive, depressing darkness, mind you, just an ominous, murky touch of that which looms in the shadows of your imagination. Anyway, at almost ten minutes in length, it takes its sweet time to unravel its distinguishing atmosphere. While the lengthy introduction builds up tension with strings, background noises and a forlorn piano, these elements are later underlaid with portentous electronics and droning synths, making this song almost border on industrial music. The pacing is again marvelous, giving even the most jarring parts of “descent” enough room to make the listener thoroughly acquainted with them; even the ending, in which the track collapses in on itself again, is tastefully and deliberately orchestrated.
A very special atmosphere
Placed before the ending duo of “end” and “coda”, “refuge” might actually be the most beautiful of the twelve tracks on the night is dark,…; the hauntingly melancholic cello melodies, which splendidly counterpoint the dry, reverberant percussion, will undoubtedly have you begging for more. The sparse instrumentation (especially compared to some of the preceding, more fleshed-out numbers) works in its favor, helping it stand out in the midst of individual songs that are at times a bit too similar due to the highly homogenous sound design and composition style.
Which is, to be honest, quite the nit-picky point to make; but it’s the only real complaint I had with this album, and therefore it needed to be said regardless. Despite its long runtime (and even longer title), the night is dark, the night is silent, the night is bright, the night is loud by raven is definitely one of the more interesting ‘outlier’ (in this case meaning that I didn’t have this on the radar before reviewing it) records I’ve heard this year so far. The fascinating electro-acoustic approach to neoclassical post-rock, and the disciplined way in which it is arranged and presented, make for a truly great and even slightly innovative collection of songs, which bears a singular, ambivalent atmosphere.
Notable Tracks: “begin”; “lugubrious”; “end”
FFO: Squarepusher, Pablo Casals, Explosions in the Sky