This latest release from husband and wife duo Zach & Denny Corsa appears to be their fifth full-length under the Nonconnah name (the duo were previously known as Lost Trail) and it is characteristically wonderful. As is the norm for Nonconnah, Unicorn Family was culled from several years of recordings featuring a host of eclectic collaborators (folks from Lilys, Half Japanese, Fire-Toolz, etc.) and those recordings have been expertly stitched together into beautifully layered and evocative soundscapes teeming with cool tape effects, thought-provoking samples, and killer shoegaze-inspired guitar work. In short, business as usual, but Nonconnah's business is consistently being one of the greatest drone projects on earth, so this is already a lock for one of my favorite albums of the year. Aside from the presence of a lovely lo-fi folk gem with actual singing, the only other notable departures from Nonconnah's existing run of gorgeous albums are shorter song durations than usual and the fact that the duo's samples have more of an eschatological bent. I suppose this album is an unusually focused and distilled statement as well, but that feels like a lateral move given how much I loved the sprawling immensity of Don't Go Down To Lonesome Holler.
The album opens on an unusually simple and intimate note with "It's Eschatology! The Musical," which approximates a melancholy Microphones-esque strain of indie folk recorded directly to boombox. Despite its amusing title and throwaway final line of "that's how the album starts," it is a legitimately lovely, soulful, and direct way to kick off an album that is otherwise composed entirely of complexly layered soundscapes of tape loops and shimmering guitar noise. I have been an enthusiastic fan of those soundscapes for a while, of course, as well as an equally huge fan of the way the pair transform sped-up tape loops into rapturously dizzying and swirling mini-symphonies at the heart of their drone pieces. Given that, I do not have anything particularly fresh to say on those topics other than that I was newly struck by how the combination of slow drones and sped up tapes evokes the hypnotic streaking of car lights in time-lapse footage of a busy highway at night.
I was also newly struck by how singularly Nonconnah succeed at making ambient/drone music feel deeply personal and sometimes even profound. I have had similar thoughts about Celer in the past, but Nonconnah achieve the same feat in a much more direct way, as Zach and Denny often embed compelling monologues in their pieces that reveal a bit of their inner lives and existential preoccupations. In the case of this album, those monologues tend to be about religious experiences, how chance encounters with other people can completely change our lives, and how revelatory it can be when one's perspective regarding one's place in the universe is transformed. In fact, it often feels like great Nonconnah songs exist solely to frame a fleeting glimpse of deep wisdom for maximum impact. While those moments might feel like standard self-help or religious fare in a different context, their apocalyptic context here feels more like a dear friend just time-traveled back and grabbed me by the shoulders to impart something incredibly urgent and potentially life-changing.
That is especially fascinating to me as a non-religious person, as I normally process visions of God and tales of the coming Rapture with a mixture of skepticism and morbid humor, but a piece like "And It Was Beautiful And Glorious" still managed to feel like a religious experience to me, as the central monologue is so movingly sincere and hopeful and surrounded by celestial shimmer. The choral samples at the core of "Heaven Becomes Apeirophobia" also stirred similarly euphoric feelings in my dark heart. In the interest of thoroughness, I should probably also mention that "A Small Wave Of Missing Pets In The Early 1980s" is yet another swoon-inducing highlight and that "We Found A Kitten Skull Painted Gold" is darkly mesmerizing, but this whole album is absolutely sublime and feels like the best kind of fever dream. I will be filing Unicorn Family right next to Nate Scheible's Fairfax on my "Albums That Are Sometimes So Profoundly Beautiful That I Feel Like I Imagined Them" shelf.