Bryce Dessner will be best known as a member of The National, but this guest star-studded extracurricular effort may prove much more timeless than anything his day job has produced so far.
The album begins on a high with Cocodrillo, a polyphonic jungle hymnal. Vocal articulations rebound and reflect off each other, unaccompanied, to immense effect as the orchestration spirals outward, conjuring something altogether otherworldly and too perfect for nature. This sonic tapestry recalls the vocal layering of labelmate Nico Muhly, especially once the operatic singing of My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden comes into play. Her refined and trained delivery serves as perfect counterpoint to the organised chaos of composer Padma Newsome’s arrangements. On The Owl of Love she is haunting and desolate against the bardic guitar accompaniment, while on Adages of Cleansing the lack of tonality pitted against her vocal command results in something altogether terrifying. Sufjan Stevens’s guest spot on the album’s final song We Were Here is not so revelatory, a by-numbers lullaby which is really more of an afterthought than a finishing touch.
Red Seas may be the real crown on this album. The first half of this song heavily recalls Nick Drake lyrically, musically and vocally as Dessner takes charge. Its extended instrumental coda is the most arresting part to the song, and possibly the album, jagged strings taking minor-key dives into overheated glockenspiel and punctuating horns — in other words, a hot mess of classical proportions, much like this record as a whole.