Ben Chatwin's latest effort is an experiment gone awry in the best possible sense, as his initial plan to make an album in a single week ultimately turned into his spending more than a year trying to abstractly replicate the creation of the world using The Seven Days of Creation as a guideline. Unsurprisingly, the resultant album is considerably brighter than its brilliant predecessor (Day One being the creation of light, after all) as well as more structurally complex and dynamically varied, but Ben's compositional talents thankfully seem to have had no trouble matching his daunting ambition.
With this album, it no longer seems right to describe Ben Chatwin as a guitarist anymore, as he has most definitely made the leap to "composer." And It Was So is certainly still guitar-based, but Ben also prominently plays organ, synthesizer, and bells and enlists a number of other musicians to contribute strings and percussion. Also, Chatwin's most impressive achievements here are overcoming the production and compositional challenges inherent in such a massive and difficult undertaking. After all, the Genesis creation narrative is all about nothingness and entropy gradually taking shape. Evoking nothingness in a compelling way is not easy.
For the most part, Chatwin wisely chooses to depict that unformed chaos with murky, moody synths and darkly gnarled guitars, which reprises a lot of what he did so wonderfully on Descent Into Delta. He does it wonderfully again here, but I was most impressed with how varied and multifaceted some of the drone sections are this time around. The opening "Let There Be Light," for example, creates its droning bed from a number of divergent textures: brooding and throbbing synths, twinkling guitar shimmer, distantly chattering voices, and harsh distorted strums. Also, the whole complexion of Ben's drones changes dramatically from song to song. For example, "The Two Great Lights" is built upon a restrained, melancholy organ motif, while the following "Swarms of Living Souls" has a much harsher bed of buzzing and grinding guitars. Despite their similar bases, none of these seven pieces have the same atmosphere at all.
Of course, what makes Talvihorros so great is that Chatwin is not content to merely make an excellent drone album: the real magic occurs when form emerges from the chaos. Interestingly, it is generally not the emerging motifs themselves that make And It Was So so mesmerizing, as most of them are too understated to make a strong impact as melodies (this is by design). Rather, the beauty lies in how the new motifs wrestle and contrast with the underlying thrum or in how the songs' original musical thread seamlessly falls away altogether. This feat is executed most dazzlingly in "Let There Be Light," as Ben uses Hecker-esque crackles and stutters to make it seem like the titular light is actually tearing through the previously existing music. That success is not a wild fluke though, as many of the other songs develop in equally inventive ways, such as the slowly emerging and abruptly warping synth pattern that builds within "The Two Great Lights."
Chatwin has made a near-perfect and wholly unique album, all the more impressive given its bold scope. No one else could have made this. My sole critique is more of a personal preference rather than a shortcoming: sometimes the rare appearances of drums or an actual riff remind me that there are actual people in a room somewhere playing this music, which causes the dreamlike spell to flicker a bit for me. That is an extremely minor quibble in the face of such a massive accomplishment though. And It Was So is truly a compositional tour de force, seamlessly weaving seven individually impressive narratives into one wonderfully absorbing and listenable arc. Whether it is actually a better album than Descent Into Delta is hard to say, but this is unquestionably Chatwin's artistic zenith to date.
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