It seems like William Ryan Fritch has a new album coming out practically every other month these days and I dearly hope to catch up with his voluminous output someday, as that relentless work ethic does not seem like it has disrupted his near-supernatural hot streak one bit. This latest gem is one of his more high-profile recent releases, billed as a labor of love two years in the making. Normally, soundtrack albums are a bit of a red flag for me, as they are not generally intended to stand alone (by design), but some artists can transcend that restriction beautifully and conjure vivid sound worlds that are satisfying and complete experiences in their own right. Unsurprisingly, Fritch is one such artist and Freeland is an absorbing, inspired, and fitfully mesmerizing album. Granted, some of the strongest pieces are teasingly brief due to their intended context, but the heaving, shuddering, and fluttering rustic drones of pieces like "Devi‚Äôs Last Deal" and "The Old Commune" are haunting and memorable enough that I do not lament their brevity much, as I will happily take whatever glimpses of heaven I can get.
As the opening piece is the achingly beautiful "Devi's Last Deal," I did not need any added convincing to help me fall in love with the album, but my appreciation for Fritch's vision actually did deepen a bit once I learned more about the film. In broad strokes, Freeland is about "an aging pot farmer" who "finds her world shattered" as the legalized weed industry threatens to destroy her fragile outlaw refuge of hippie idealism (and her livelihood). Given the trailer, the tone of the music, and the choice of the elementally intense Krisha Fairchild for the lead role, it is probably safe to say I will find the film heartbreakingly sad when I finally see it, as powerlessly watching capitalism consume counterculture is certainly a subject that resonates with me. In keeping with that theme, Fritch's music evokes flickering and ghostly memories of distant happier times in a long-abandoned commune. If that spectral commune had a spectral house band, it would probably be a drowned orchestra of moss-covered skeletons rather than more expected "commune fare" like Amon D√º√ºl II or the freak folk milieu, as the slow, sad drones are invariably organic, haunted, and haunting. There are also a couple of shimmering and radiant pedal steel-sounding interludes ("Bygones" and "What You've Built"), as well as a tenderly melodic and dreamlike piano piece (the closing "Resurface"). All are likable, but it is definitely the more drone-based pieces that make me think "no one could have made a better soundtrack for this film than William Ryan Fritch, as he is a goddamn textural sorcerer." In pieces like "The Old Commune" and "Dropped," the strings sound like the deep, heaving, and woody groans of an old forest, while the woodwinds breathily sigh and flutter like phantasmagoric birds and butterflies. When Fritch stretches out enough to conjure a sublimely immersive and bittersweet scene in vivid detail, the results are gorgeous. Admittedly, only a handful of pieces linger around long enough to make such an impression on their own, but these fourteen fragments cumulatively make for quite a memorable whole.
Samples can be found here.