Curiously, this visionary and otherwordly collaboration between Fursaxa's Tara Burke and Espers' Helena Espvall was only released this year despite being recorded roughly seven years ago. That is quite a shame, as Tourmaline might have had an enthusiastic reception if it had come out during freak folk's brief day in the sun. Then again, maybe not, as this album goes even farther out than Burke's already deeply outr√© solo records. In any case,¬†Tourmaline is a wonderful album, as it feels a lot like like experiencing a series of unsettling supernatural events in the darkest depths of a thick forest at night. If I did not know anything about the album's provenance, I would have guessed that it was a lost private press obscurity by an artist that either went mad, wandered into the desert, or vanished under mysterious circumstances soon after the recording was complete (i.e. exactly the sort of thing that I am drawn to like a moth).
The opening piece, "Catharus," deceptively borrows its name from a species of thrush despite being totally unlike any earthly birdsong that I am aware of.Instead, "Catharus" is built upon a swirling mass of eerie whistles that feels unnervingly like a haunting chorus of frogs intent on some sort of occult and potentially malevolent business.That surreal and shifting atmosphere is the most intriguing part of the song, but Burke and Espvall weave some ghostly intertwined Siren-esque vocals over the top to beckon me further into the album.Actual instruments make their first appearance on the following "Spirea of Ulmaria," which is essentially a gnarled and tormented-sounding violin (or cello) solo prone to occasional sharp harmonics and flurries of demonic chromaticism.It still feels deeply unreal and unsettling though, as it takes place over a backdrop that seems like some kind of wood flute being used to mimic warbling and fluttering calls of night birds.The "bird calls" have a very strange and hollow texture though, which subtly furthers the feeling that something is not right.The lengthy "Mabon" closes out the first side of the album and it is the first of Tourmaline's two legitimately mesmerizing centerpieces.It opens as a roiling and distorted drone piece that churns and swells like a My Bloody Valentine-style shoegaze roar, but Espvall's cello soon takes the piece in an even more viscerally snarling, howling, and cathartic direction.There are some chant-like vocals too, which lend the piece a suitably ritualistic atmosphere, but the real appeal of the piece lies in how Anahita transform drone into something far more physical, wild, and possessed-sounding.Espvall's strings sound completely psychotic at times and it is absolutely wonderful.The final moments are especially beautiful, as actual notes are abandoned for an eerie cascade of metallic harmonics.
Anahita's dark spell continues to beguile with the similarly lengthy "Nascent Wings" that kicks off the album's second half.Unexpectedly, it is more of a vocal-centric piece than anything previously found on Tourmaline, but the underlying music is no less inventive and disturbed-sounding.For one, Espvall's cello is especially menacingly this time around, unpredictably swooping and seething behind the moaning and howling vocals.There are also some brief flourishes of spacey, lysergic electronics that beautifully add to the sense that reality has become hopelessly blurred and I am now getting a full-on glimpse of a flickering and vibrant spirit world of faeries, nymphs, and ghosts.I was especially struck by how seamlessly "Nascent Wings" can shift from nightmarish to heavenly, elevating dreamlike unreality into something even more complex, layered, and mercurial.The closing epic "A Tapestry to Weave" is yet another drone piece in structure, but one with a haze of ghostly voices swirling around vaporously.There are also some faint bells, adding to the already convincing illusion that I have stumbled upon a coven or a black mass while lost in the woods at night.As usual, however, Burke and Espvall have a striking set piece of sorts lurking up their collective sleeve, as "Tapestry" unexpectedly transforms into a rather lovely, melodic, and bittersweet cello performance at the midpoint, tenderly moaning and churning amidst a bleary haze of half-spectral/half-angelic vocals.
If Tourmaline were a somewhat more conventional album, I would probably grumble a bit about how it would have been better if it were less amorphous and improvisatory sounding, but Anahita's illusion is perfect from the first notes to the last.If someone told me that Burke and Espvall were not actually psych musicians from Philadelphia, but were actually twins who were raised in a remote tundra by a pack of wolves and a kindly warlock, I would probably accept it as a fairly credible claim.In fact, I keep wanting to describe this album as "Lovecraftian," as it so perfectly distills the feel of an enchanted wood that all of the villagers avoid because ancient witches and druids are always trying to reawaken slumbering arcane gods and forest spirits.Such a comparison, while colorful, is a disservice though, as Tourmaline is more sophisticated, sensuous, and darkly passionate than Lovecraft's works of pure imagination (also, there would have been no women in Lovecraft's version).¬†Regardless, this album feels like the veil of reality just suddenly dissolved and plunged me in the middle of a dark fairy tale tinged with supernatural horror.As such, it is quite a remarkable and otherworldly achievement (I am not at all fond of reality).Admittedly, it is hard to imagine an album as bizarre and challenging as this one connecting with very many people, but that is not Anahita's fault‚Äìpeople just need to have better taste.Hopefully,¬†Tourmaline will find its way to those of us receptive to its timeless "forest necromancy" aesthetic, as it will likely make a deep impression on anyone drawn to the immersive, temporally dislocated visions of fellow fringe-dwellers like Natural Snow Buildings (or Burke's own work as Fursaxa).