(2016) Ulaan Passerine - Moss Cathedral (24 bits)
Steven R. Smith puts out new albums multiple times each year, but whatever the season might be, the music will feel like autumn. In any given recording, he might add up ambient waves, silk road folk drones and depleted blues. Or Death Valley twang and stadium rock might be have their sounds harvested and transformed. There’s always the haze of a golden sundown, warmth that implies a colder season ahead.
Lately his Ulaan Passerine project has become where he works these styles together in to longer tracks, ten or twenty minutes or more. Smith switches identities frequently, but it’s possible to tease out that the Passerine name is for longform work, standing in contrast to Ulaan Khol (heavier distortion), Ulaan Markhor (tighter rhythms), Hala Strana (Slavic overtones) or his own name (more austerity), though there’s copious overlap. Because his catalog is so deep and worthy of immersion, the Worstward Recordings archive has become, more than any single set, the definitive place to get a grasp his aesthetic. There it all is: artwork of decaying flora, twenty years of focused meandering, various hand crafted and manufactured audio formats for sale. The two extended tracks that make Moss Cathedral provide a vivid tour through his techniques and show just how sharp his work can be.
“Sanahin” trades off between guitar and piano, launching with lazy honkytonk plinks and a steady, spacey rhythm that could have been the work of Brian Jones and Charlie Watts. When percussion falls away, leaving the piano and guitar to circle over a held tone, a drive has been established, even though the motor stopped. So it’s striking when a few minutes later that drone stands alone. How did we get from Stonesy psych to a single whir?
Smith’s work is instrumental, yet it evokes old rock productions as often as it plays avant-guard guitar solitaire. “Sanahin” frequently feels familiar, like the coda to a radio song has drifted into late John Fahey. There’s sometimes a fragmentary nature to Smith’s tracks, loose playing that leaves tensions unresolved, tracing over old rock licks that lead to crescendos, but are cut off before the anticipation resolves. In Ulaan Passerine, carpentry hides those seams. Working its way from the drone halfway mark, piano and guitar come back in, completely reconfigured from the opening, cascading like “Marquee Moon” or “Dark Star.” There’s not a finale. The ripples cycle onward, like they’ll continue long after the track ends.
“The Folding Book” is about as sweet as he could possibly go and stay in his old stone church. The first movement is founded on an electric guitar in a slow, confident shuffle. Piano gets tangled into the rhythm, then unwinds with proud major key scales. Long tones are held in the background, maybe synthesized, maybe a guitar resting close to an amp in steady feedback. There’s a hint of flute, and then it all blooms into a full orchestra. How could it get more lovely? It can’t. The open doors slam shut, with a whack of distortion, and the breezes are locked outside. For a while, it seem like the sweetness has been banned. That’s not the case, but it’s very hard to describe how grunting bass notes lead the way back.
The tracks share an unusual shape: flush at the beginning and ends, stark in the middle. The lonesome is always hovering in Smith’s work, an energizing force, welcomed and cultivated. Moss Cathedral comes from a room with low ceilings and an infinite horizon
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02. The Folding Book.flac
Source : CD
Format : FLAC
Format/Info : Free Lossless Audio Codec, 16-bit PCM
Bit rate mode : Variable
Bit rate : ~ 1.3 Mbs-1.2 Mbps
Channel(s) : 2 channels
Sampling rate : 44.1 KHz
Bit depth : 16 bits