Nonconnah, "Songs For and About Ghosts"
I am kicking myself for not catching up on this post-Lost Trail project sooner, as the alarmingly prolific Zachary and Denny Corsa have a long history of making great music and they may very well have reached their zenith with this latest chapter in their collaborative evolution. That said, Nonconnah is something more than just a husband-and-wife duo, as the Corsas describes the endeavor as a "Memphis dronegaze collective." That is a bit of an understatement, given the far-reaching and eclectic array of luminaries that have turned up on past Nonconnah albums, but the heart of the project is the mingling of Zachary's guitar playing with Denny's field recordings. The "dronegaze" part of "dronegaze collective" is a bit of an understatement too, as it mostly just describes Zachary's sublime guitar aesthetic. Sadly, I cannot think of a glib combination of words that better encompasses what this first vinyl release from the project actually sounds like, but my best attempt is that it sounds like some shoegaze guitar god dropped by the GRM for a series of ecstatic-sounding improvisations with some brilliant musique concr√®te enthusiast, then wove all the coolest parts together into achingly beautiful and intricately layered sound collages. When Denny and Zachary are at their best, they are damn near untouchable, as I can think of no one else who so organically blurs together naked beauty, go-for-broke psychotropic brilliance, and immersive textural richness.
The vinyl version of the album ostensibly consists of four separate twelve-minute pieces, but each of those is further delineated into five separate movements, which makes for quite an unusual structure (the album feels like series of vignettes constantly segueing into different themes). Similarly, it is damn hard to figure out who is doing what on any given piece, as Zachary is credited with quite a wide array of sounds (noise, tapes, field recordings) that blur the lines between his contributions and Denny's. Guest collaborators Owen Pallett (strings) and Jenn Taiga (synths) are a bit easier to find in the mix, but individual performances are largely irrelevant, as one prominent feature of this album is its tendency to regularly blossom into complexly layered and rapturous "wall of sound" crescendos. In those delirious moments, it can sound like a dozen tapes playing at varying speeds in an abstract symphony of swooning, frayed beauty. Given that the album is essentially twenty individual pieces of varying lengths that bleed into one another, figuring out which title those moments of sublime, ecstatic transcendence correspond to is largely a fool's errand. The crucial thing is merely that there are plenty of them and that the more understated moments that bridge them are often wonderfully hallucinatory or strikingly lovely as well. For example, in the first side's "II. Changed In Autumn's Feral Depths" alone, the foursome pass through a dreamily warped and angelic choral passage, an interlude of chirping birds, an eerily poignant spoken word sample, a bittersweetly devastating string theme, and a gorgeously warbling and shivering climax of backwards guitar loops. Listening to it now, it feels like an absolute tour de force of distinctive and absolutely beguiling passages and it probably is not even my favorite of the album's four numbered sections: every single damn piece is a highlight. The digital version also includes two brief bonus tracks identified as excerpts and they are similarly brilliant (especially the roiling and roaring tape loop pile-up "Summer Sparkler Dream Cartridge"). Admittedly, some listeners might be a bit exasperated by the album's unusual structure and may find themselves wishing that certain passages had been expanded into fully formed, stand-alone compositions. Normally I would feel that way too, but the Corsas are making some of the most sublime, absorbing, and vividly textured music on earth right now, so any way they feel like presenting it is just fine by me. This is easily one of the finest albums that I have heard this year.
Samples can be found here.