Sarah Davachi’s impressively prolific 2016 finally winds to a close with this release, which is arguably the finest of her three albums this year. Following the uncharacteristically acoustic/organic All My Circles Run, Vergers again returns to the synthesizer (in this case, a rare, vintage, and analog EMS Synthi 100), but the two albums are actually not all that different: a completed Sarah Davachi album always sounds languorous, gently hallucinatory, and elegantly minimal regardless of how it originally started. In any case, the big draw here is the opening 20-minute epic "Gentle So Gentle," as it is easily one of Davachi's strongest and most beautifully sustained compositions to date.
As it is currently only being released on LP, Vergers is an album that is very much shaped by its intended medium: the entire first side is devoted to the aforementioned longform opus "Gentle So Gentle," while the second side is composed of two comparatively minor pieces in a roughly similar vein. Initially, "Gentle" feels like just another warm, hazy, and lazily undulating drone piece, albeit quite a good one. Gradually, however, more and more details and layers begin to blossom forth from Davachi's droning bliss-cloud and the piece slowly coheres into a hypnotic pulse and starts to reveal hidden depths of emotion. The overall feel is like a dense, rolling fog filled with mysterious, flickering lights or, more prosaically, like an especially beautiful bit of classical music that has been blurred and time-stretched into unrecognizability. As a composition, it is sublimely gorgeous, simple, and pure, but there are a lot of less obvious details that I found beguiling as well. The most significant is Davachi's talent for artfully keeping her various motifs mysterious and half-hidden, allowing just enough melody into the light to make an impression without ever being fully explicit. Also, there is a wonderful precariousness and fragility to the piece, as a number of textures feel wispy or frayed and piece gradually dissolves into a heavenly coda rather than escalating in density. In short, it is an absolutely perfect piece of music.
Naturally, the second half of the album has a tough time measuring up to such a quietly stunning opening salvo. One fundamental hurdle is that shorter compositions do not get to fully benefit from Davachi's greatest gifts as a composer: her near-supernatural patience and her lightness of touch. Davachi is definitely at her best when she has a chance to stretch out and unhurriedly weave her slow-burning magic. If a piece is only a mere eight minutes, like "Ghosts and All," it needs to make an impression a bit faster. Much like "Gentle So Gentle," "Ghosts" initially takes root as a deceptively simple drone piece, albeit one with a considerably murkier and more ominous tone. Soon, however, a mournful violin theme appears over the dark throb and the song takes its form. After the album's beautifully understated first half, however, the violin theme feels a bit too blunt and dirge-like for my taste. Also, it does not so much evolve as just appear and gradually fade away. The closing "In Staying" fares a bit better, as its more harsh, metallic-sounding texture is balanced out by the subtlety of its shifting pulse of throbs and slow phase shifts. Again, it never gets around to blossoming into something more, but its ten minutes of small-scale shifting dynamics and textures is enjoyably hypnotic nonetheless. While it is not a threat at all to unseat "Gentle So Gentle" as the album’s centerpiece, "In Staying" is exactly the kind of piece that I could casually have playing in the background for hours without ever getting bored of it.
I suppose this review makes it sound like Vergers is only half-great, which I suppose is technically true, but I feel like the album's entire raison d'être is "Gentle So Gentle," which is a masterpiece. As such, I see the second side primarily as just a couple of bonus tracks appended to an absolutely stellar EP (though I admittedly do like "In Staying" quite a bit). The vinyl format is especially useful here, as Vergers is practically engineered to facilitate playing the A side to death, which is exactly what I expect to do.
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