Nodody Living Can Ever Make Me Turn Back by Jozef van WissemRelease date: November 10, 2017
Label: Consouling Sounds
What better way to welcome the winter than with this sombre and contemplative collection of tunes from minimalist composer/lutenist Jozef van Wissem? A concept album of sorts, all of the songs are inspired by the cover image (a Vanitas drawing by Cindy Wright) and therefore are presumably concerned with mortality and the transience of life; presumably, because for the most part it’s an instrumental work, and even on the rare occasions where there are lyrics, they tend to be fragmentary and enigmatic. In fact, it picks up more or less where last year’s When Shall This Bright Day Begin ended, perhaps more sombre in tone, but on the surface fairly similar; bare, minimalist lute with little or no accompaniment aside from the occasional bit of atmospheric noise, beautifully clear, evocative and reflective.
Initially, it feels like the album will be formidably dark; the stately and sinister opener ‘Virium Illarum’ (‘these forces’) vibrates with menace, beginning smoothly enough but fracturing half way through, van Wissem’s deep, multitracked humming vocal breaking into a jagged liturgical chant (in Latin). It’s as though the longed for bright day of the previous album has given way to utter darkness. But in a way, this opening is deceptive; the songs which follow share an autumnal melancholy feel, partly just because of the characteristic warm sound of the lute, but importantly, it’s an album where the titles of the tunes contribute to and to some degree determine the mood. ‘Virium Illarum’ aside, it would be possible to enjoy the album simply as a collection of pretty, wistful lute pieces.
On closer inspection though, titles like ‘Your Days Gone Like A Shadow’, ‘The Empty Cup of Suffering’ and especially ‘Our Bones Lie Scattered Before The Pit’ darken the perceived tone of the music considerably once read and, taken along with the inspirational artwork, are grim to the point of morbidity. This is where the repetitive and trance-like quality of the minimalist approach really comes into its own; even on the album’s busiest pieces (and really, even they are pretty sparse, basically some arpeggios amid the strummed chords), the circular quality of the music hooks the ear while simultaneously freeing the thoughts to wander – and with van Wissem’s titles and Cindy Wright’s imagery in mind, the mood grows ever more downbeat. Perhaps strangely, the vocal pieces are even more enigmatic than the others. Virtually the whole lyric to ‘Your Days Gone Like A Shadow’ (sung in van Wissem’s deadpan, Eno-esque voice) reads “how did I come to this conclusion?” which initially feels light and quizzical, but through sheer repetition takes on an intense, haunting quality – unless of course it just bores and/or irritates the listener, a distinct risk with an album so single-minded and bare in its approach.
With Nobody Living Can Ever Make Me Turn Back, as with When Shall This Bright Day Begin, the album’s production, an airy clarity that lets the notes of the lute reverberate like dust motes in shafts of sunlight, brings out the real beauty of the work; if there was no brightness to life then the darkness of death would be nothing to fear, and Jozef van Wissem celebrates both the light and dark in this ravishing, restless and troubled album.