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Rafael Anton Irisarri, "Midnight Colours"

cover imageI was a bit surprised to belatedly discover that Irisarri’s latest release was conceived as an imaginary soundtrack to the Doomsday Clock, as Midnight Colours is often an atypically warm and beautiful release, shedding much of the pervasive melancholy that runs throughout his previous work. Perhaps, however, it would be more accurate to say that Irisarri has merely become a bit better at effectively wielding that melancholy, as the shadows that shroud the lush heaven of Midnight Colours tend to add depth and gravitas without crossing the line into brooding reverie. That may sound like a subtle evolution, yet it is quite an important one from my standpoint, as Irisarri's eternal somberness was always a bit of an obstacle for me. I am not normally one to praise accessibility, but I am delighted by it in this instance, as his grainy, hissing, and gorgeously enveloping drones have rarely been more listenable than they are here.

Geographic North

Over the course of his last few albums, I have increasingly found Rafael Anton Irisarri to be quite a fascinating and underappreciated artist, as he is kind of a negative image doppelganger for Tim Hecker.Both artists are incredibly talented and have a similar aesthetic at their core, yet Hecker has lately been reaching towards the heavens with increasingly ambitious, timeless, and thematically powerful compositions while Irisarri continues to burrow further and further inward, deeply feeling all the anxiety and sorrow of our current age and trying to channel that into something meaningful.Put more prosaically, Irisarri remains extremely committed to drone, pouring his soul into his elegantly blurred and swirling sound worlds in hopes of occasionally achieving something transcendent and poetic.With the first few songs on Midnight Colours, he succeeds beautifully in that regard, especially with the opening "The Clock."While it is built on a simple and bittersweetly gorgeous chord progression, the lion's share of Irisarri's artistic vision is devoted to harnessing the cumulative power of small details and layered textures.Regarding the latter, there are very few other artists who are on Irisarri's level, as "The Clock" is a sumptuous feast of woozily ravaged tapes and buried field recordings that hint at deeper mystery and meaning.When he is at his best, Irisarri's work feels like a hallucinatory plunge into the swirling mists of his subconscious, resembling a warm and lovely dream populated with ephemeral fragments of more concrete memories.The sweeping and lush "The Falling Curtain" that follows is similarly revelatory, as a simple two-note pattern acts as a lilting sonar ping that guides me through a rapturous fog of blearily swelling chords, blurred drones, and tape noise.

While it is probably fair to say that Midnight Colours is front-loaded with its two finest moments, it is a thoughtfully sequenced and immersive album from start to finish–it just happens to dissolve more and more into hallucinatory abstraction as it unfolds (for a while, anyway).For example, the sustained, quavering, and engulfing roar of "Oh Paris, We Are Fucked" is not a piece that would have struck me if it were decontextualized from its surroundings, but it is quite a pleasant place to linger for several minutes after "The Falling Curtain" fades away.While the next couple of pieces continue that descent into increasingly diffuse and drifting terrain, there are subtle and cunning machinations at work, as the album gradually darkens and takes firmer form again, though the radiantly burbling "Two and Half Minutes" is a bit of perplexing and tonally anachronistic detour.Aside from that curious aberration, the overall trajectory of Midnight Colours is like slowly descending into a blissful sleep only to be haunted by a sense of vague menace in my dreams…then ruefully awakening into a reality that seethes with simmering dread and regret (as well as quite a bit of stark beauty, thankfully).That dark awakening seems to begin in earnest with "Drifting," which unfolds as an empty-sounding murky thrum beneath a languorous melody that feels distant and corroded.In many ways, it is a corroded inversion of the album's earlier pieces, as the textures are gnarled and scorched and their distorted wake creates a snarl of uncomfortable harmonies. The brief and understated final piece, "A Ruptured Tranquility," is not nearly as overtly blackened, yet is perhaps even more unnerving, as it feels like I am among the innards of a massive clock, surrounded by straining, weary gears that are slowly shuddering to a halt.To quote TS Eliot's The Hollow Men: "This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper."

Midnight Colours is mostly devoid of flaws, aside from possibly some curious choices in pacing (Irisarri occasionally makes his weaker pieces too long and his stronger pieces too short).My only significant caveat with this album is that Irisarri's brilliance lies primarily in his production talents: he is always a master craftsman, yet his triumphs as a composer are a bit less consistent.When he is at the peak of his powers in both regards, as he is on Midnight Colours' first two pieces, the results are glorious.The remainder of the album is still quite an absorbing and lushly immersive whole though: I have been listening to it for weeks and I am still finding plenty to like in Irisarri's beautifully roiling and frayed dronescapes.While I have not heard enough of Irisarri’s early work to know whether or not Midnight Colours is his strongest album, I can say without reservation that it is definitely a serious contender for that honor (as well as a significant leap forward artistically).