Thursday, January 23, 2014

Album Review: The Visit – Between Worlds

Album Score: A
In an industry where everything seems to be trending towards the more complex – faster, louder, overhyped, overproduced – it takes an act of understated beauty to remind us what makes something truly memorable. The Visit takes this concept and runs with it. Hailing from Ottawa, Canada, The Visit consists solely of singer Heather Sita Black and cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne, who display stunning chemistry on their debut release, “Between Worlds.” Though containing only a single fourteen-minute song, it is, quite frankly, a tremendous opening statement from the duo. The piece traverses a number of peaks as it builds from a chamber-style lament to a progressive juggernaut and back with breathtaking ease.

In recent years, electric cello has begun to surface as a viable lead instrument in avant-garde music; albums such as Agalloch’s Marrow of the Spirit and The Red Paintings’ Walls come to mind as having featured and benefitted from the haunting playing of Jackie Perez-Gratz and Wayne Jennings, respectively. Here, however, the burden of carrying all instrumental melodicand rhythmic aspects of “Between Worlds” falls squarely on Weinroth-Browne’s shoulders, and his creative arrangements are more than up to the task. Over the course of “Between Worlds,” his playing features double-stop chords, throaty bass picking, mellifluous staccato runs, and indescribable bowed/picked combinations woven together with rare virtuosity. His lyrical playing style allows him to carry the song for minutes at a time, but it’s when his vocalist joins in that “Between Worlds” really takes off.

From what I can tell, the entirety of Black’s singing is in non-lexical vocables – sounds meant to be sung, but which carry no specific meaning. Still, her contralto vocalizations carry a distinctly Arabic feel, partially due to Black’s use of scales containing a major second interval and partially because their timber brings to mind works such as those of renowned Raï singer Cheb Mami. A number of times, she invokes a descending back-beat motif, which serves as both a chorus of sorts and the climax of the song; without lyrics to hold onto, her variance between plaintive mantras and vibrant vibrato lines gives each section of the song new character. Of course, comparables for this sort of music are hard to come by. The band cites a combination of progressive metal, chamber music, world music, and avant-garde styles as their basis, and few artists cover such wide stylistic ground. In the realm of progressive metal, in particular, the violin of Ne Obliviscaris’ Tim Charles might be the best starting point.

Listening to the incendiary rising action between nine and twelve minutes into the song, one has to wonder whether The Visit has even scratched the surface of their capabilities as they begin to leave footprints in the snow of a path all their own. As “Between Worlds” concludes with ghostly singing and sparse cello notes, seeming as though it has traversed several of those titular worlds and come full-circle to where it began, the future seems both wide open and extremely bright for this young duo. For anyone remotely interested in up-and-coming progressive or neo-classical artists, The Visit is very close to essential listening.

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