Review of Not A Leaf Remains As It Was [12k1069]

Brainwashed (US)

Considering Roden’s recent album Proximities, an abstract, lo-fi piece of sound art, this is an odd step. Created through studio improvisations that were explicitly aimed at avoiding electronic instruments, it becomes a very different beast, which is made even more apparent once actual vocals appear, for better or worse.

The vocal component comes in the form of Japanese jisei poems: texts written by monks on their deathbeds. Rather than read in the traditional sense, these poems were cut up and randomly sequenced, becoming less about words and more about the phonemic sounds that comprise them.

While there was an avoidance of electronic instrumentation throughout, there are still moments that mimic synthetic sounds, such as the droning mid-range and slightly dissonant layers of “Winds Through Bleak Timber.” The pseudo-electronic sounds are mixed with obvious organic ones, namely acoustic guitar and what sounds like snapping wooden twigs.

“Fade Away Within” does away with the more identifiable elements and instead uses what I assume to be found percussive noises via field recordings and subtly twinkling wind chimes. It definitely has a drifting, droning quality to it, and is quite abstract, but there is an airy, open spaciousness to the sound that keeps it interesting.

This sense of space appears again on “Water Veins,” where shimmering chimes are paired with quietly plucked strings, all of which hover delicately like clouds on a clear day. On the closing “Two Or Three Fireflies,” the sparse notes and hollow found textures actually converge into the quietest piece here, which is no small feat given the three pieces preceding it.

Now, I must admit personally, I would have enjoyed this album more without the vocals. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the higher-register intonations used by both Peters and Roden, it just stylistically never works for me with male vocalists as opposed to female ones, making them more of a distraction. However, they are used sparingly throughout, especially on the final two tracks, so it’s not a deal breaker for me, but it does hinder an otherwise brilliant album for me.

Even with the vocals, Not A Leaf Remains As It Was is a beautifully sparse album, and its avoidance of electronic instrumentation makes for a more complex, nuanced experience. Trying to identify what is making the sounds leads to more deliberate listening, and thus becomes a beautifully engrossing record.

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