Guitarist Mary Halvorson and violist Jessica Pavone bring barely audible remnants from the past to their new duo album, but also rustle with an air that is voraciously of the present.
An ability to dream up fresh new palettes of sound for their instruments enables them to create strange but wonderful landscapes. Complementary rhythms form thick textures, or long notes combine in sparse melodies to form atmospheric settings throughout the album's thirteen tracks. Each tune exists as a theatrical vignette, and the two players constantly don the personas of new characters or personify a scene. Halvorson's vibrato glimmers against Pavone's soothing notes like moonlight on the sea on "Your Reason Is Dead. The two waltz together like a pair of broken souls on "Impossible To Recreate.
"Till April starts off the album, Halvorson and Pavone digging down and spewing smatterings of splatter. Pavone smears it around with her bow before it develops into a fury of short notes that combine into dense textures. Pockets of puckered blips emanate from Halvorson's guitar.
A calm thoughtfulness and constant strumming prepares the title track for the first of Halvorson's real tirades. Here we witness the unleashing of a litany of precise and controlled notes as she fabricates a harshly atonal melee that blisters with digital beauty.
Remarkably, throughout the album, the two players never imprison themselves in the constraints of musical rules. When they do utilize common forms they come off naturally, leading into the more esoteric sequences gracefully. Movement plays a major role. The players compel us to listen as they move together in waves, reaching levels of intensity then dying off, or wandering apart yet still subconsciously aware of the other.
During "Each Other Halvorson and Pavone play almost completely independently of one another. The tune ambles on in an erratic clutter that could easily bore, but its success arrives with the realization that these notes sound quite interesting together. Often their movements form intricate patterns, as on "A Decade Past, when Pavone meanders graciously within the cubic partitions that Halvorson creates.
A sullenness looms softly throughout most of Prairies, but there's also a strong sense of curiosity and a glazed-over seduction, as on the surprisingly delightful vocal track "Sometimes. But the strongest emotion emerges on "Woebegone. Immediately one gets the sense that danger is approaching, or so warns the bow as it rakes against two dissonant notes with the constancy of an alarm. Halvorson hammers out a stormy minor chord over and over. The eyes of their characters glisten with fear. They seem to be telling us to take heed. But what is it they're warning against?
Personnel: Mary Halvorson: guitar, vocals: Jessica Pavone: viola, vocals.