Review of Hourglass [12k2015]

Tokafi (.COM)

Free-form takes on Bob Dylan: Ysatis and Deupree are making seemingly impossible combinations work.

It is tempting to see a metaphorical meaning in the title of this release. Meetings between Taylor Deupree and Savvas Ysatis have become rare events, after all. Their previous musical encounter, The Sleeping Morning, already dates back a full three years and whenever they get together, there never seems to be enough time: Sand quietly trickles through the hourglass, hours fly by like seconds and brightest day collapses into darkest night within the blink of an eye. And yet, that barely twenty-minute-short predecessor impressively demonstrated the potential contained within their artistic relationship. From the hazy brushstrokes of installation-like opener “Reservoir“ to the quirky folktronica of “The Youthful“ sea, the EP was testimony to two open minds daring the other to take them far beyond their own imagination.

On Hourglass, this aspect of sonic exploration appears to have become slightly less overt, while the song format has gained in relative importance. Or perhaps, as their collaboration has gone into the next round, one has simply come to expect the unexpected from the duo. There are certainly enough contrasts to be found on this succinctly short release to make the entire record collection of your average mainstream-listener look pale in comparison: “Clouds“ is a free-form take on Bob Dylan, with Deupree blowing a raw two-note theme on his Harmonica and energetically picking his Guitar, while Ysatis delivers enigmatic vocals about “rain“, „open doors“ and “different lanes“. “Like Ice on a Sumer’s Day“ drifts on a dreamy combination of acoustic and electronic textures, Ysatis’ voice melting away into the lush, lascivious harmonies as he repeats the title-words ad infinitum until the end of the piece. And three-minute closer “Somewhere on Earth“ comes across as a blend between sweet drones and quiet cinematic poetry, a lyrical melody looking poised to spread its wings and take off majestically, but instead silently waving goodbye and bringing the music to a peaceful finale.

In what sounds like a contradiction, both the Pop-aspect of the project, which had already tentatively announced itself on The Sleeping Morning, as well as its ambitions at creating immersive soundscapes have become more pronounced on Hourglass. Even though traditional structures are still mainly a mere point of departure for Deupree and Ysatis, who clearly enjoy the sound and emotional resonance of Folk more than its rigid forms, it can not be denied that there is a lightness and sweetness to some of these compositions which come entirely without hidden trapdoors or any kind of irony. On the other hand, the almost eight minute title track takes one through a spooky fogbank of ghostly harmonics, eery wind, unconsciously touched Guitar strings and a feebly humming Harmonica. There is nothing catchy, contagious or casual about this at all: From darkness, a glowing Synthesizer-motive rises triumphantly, then sinks down in serene resignation.

The main challenge for Hourglass was to make this seemingly impossible combination work. In the end, Deupree and Ysatis found the suitable form of presentation in the Vinyl-format, each side representing a short journey of its own: While pieces on the A-Side could be seen as reflections of the same idea on the different shores of waking and sleeping, its counterpart is pierced by a sense of constant departure. One the one hand, this represents a contrast to The Sleeping Morning, which closed out in a lively and hopeful mood – and yet, they are linked by their shared ambition of finding pleasantly unconventional trajectories through their material. After relistening to both releases in one go, there is also a distinct sense, as though these pieces were possibly intended to be part of a larger cycle, to which the duo keep adding a handful of new tracks every few years. This may be an intriguing proposition in a way. But one can’t help but imagine the body of work they could come up with if they were neighbours.

By Tobias Fischer

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