This release is Rachael Dease’s first solo album, although she’s been working consistently in various sound-design roles, such as installations for Dark Mofo’s Winterfeast, for a while. Written as lullabies for her newborn during the bushfires at the beginning of 2020, this album is a ruminative exploration of dark textures and timbres, reflecting a time of change and upheaval.
The music is genre-ambivalent, flirting with what’s probably easiest to think of as indie ambient-synth-and-strings. It’s worth mentioning that the press release describes it as “part-song, part-symphony”, and name-checks contemporary composers like Max Richter, Jóhann Jóhannsson, as well as Henri Gorecki.
I can hear Dease’s experience in composing for installations; these ruminative songs feel as if you can step inside, around, and through them, feeling and reflecting on aspects of the song as you go. Lead single The Mountain reflects this sense of quiet exploration with the lyrics “we took a long walk into caves/I turned a lifetime into days/we took the long dive in today/I’m gone”.
Still, this contemplative mood is the downfall of the album. While each song is carefully crafted, there’s also not enough differentiation between tracks to keep your attention, and you find yourself wishing there was just a little pulse and groove to keep things moving. Even lullabies can have some movement.
Dease will be performing this album live with the WASO and the vocal ensemble Voyces in February, and I suspect that much of it might come off differently in person. Worth investigating, I think.
Hymns for End Times