By: Will Pinfold
Jozef van Wissem | website | facebook | twitter | bandcamp |
Released on March 18, 2016 via Consouling Sounds
There’s something intensely evocative about the bare sound of a lute being strummed; what it evokes is subjective of course, but the plangent tone of the instrument is unmistakeable and powerfully emotive. The sparse, haunting ‘To Lose Yourself Forever Is Eternal Happiness’ which opens Dutch lutenist/composer Josef van Wissem’s fourteenth solo album is so imbued with a mood of wistful regret that it lingers on throughout the rest of the record’s fairly varied length. That song strips the lute music of the baroque period to its core, consisting of little more than almost ceremonial strummed chords, reverberating in a Vermeer-like stillness with some wispy ethereal vocal noises from Zola Jesus, who guests on a couple of tracks.
The longing tone lingers on even when the form becomes relatively more modern, as on less stately, arpeggiated songs like ‘You Can’t Remain Here’ and ‘Detachment’. These tracks have a folky flavour, but are also given a unique, hypnotic quality by Van Wissem’s deep, slightly sinister vocals, which deliver the repetitive fragmentary lyrics in a disturbed, ambivalent tone.
Elsewhere, there’s a Max Richter-ish feel to a group of songs concerned with architecture and its philosophy. ‘The Purified Eye of the Soul is Placed in the Circle of the Eternal Sun’, ‘The Ecstasy of the Golden Cross’ and ‘The Incomparable Nobility of Earthly Suffering’ feature sampled dialogue accompanied by the lute and, in ‘The Ecstasy…’, another of Van Wissem’s enigmatic vocals. The lute playing on ‘The Purified Eye…’ features a strange but effective baroque/country blues hybrid, but again, the same aura of calm reflection and regret dominates.
The most conventional song of the set, ‘Ruins’, again features Zola Jesus and is a short but powerful piece, a little reminiscent of Cranes, but with Zola’s powerful, forthright voice in place of Alison Shaw’s wispy childlike tones. The solemn, minimalistic ‘Death of the Ego’ closes things perfectly; the dust-motes-caught-in-sunlight spaces between notes proving as expressive as the lute itself.
Overall, When Shall This Bright Day Begin is a beautiful and unusual album, but it’s also somehow familiar. It’s almost as if, in rejecting external factors – fashion, genre, traditional song structures – the spare, unwasteful, uncluttered music finds instead the most direct path to the soul and the yearning and regret that lives there.