An elegant new album from the Minneapolis duo, blessed by a beautiful optimism.
Mike Diver 2012-03-08
Minneapolis-based A Whisper in the Noise is, for this album, West Thordson and Sonja Larson, on "all other instruments and vocals" and violin and vocals respectively. Primarily a solo project for Thordson, AWITN has evolved over previous long-players into reliable purveyors of real-world-dissolving sounds – the term "art rock" has been bandied, but it sticks as loosely as it has to any band. Darkness enveloped past Steve Albini-helmed discs, but here, with Larson aboard from the very beginning of the creative process and Thordson self-producing, AWITN conjure atmospheres which lend themselves to bucolic imagery, and textures to explore like one might the bark of a tree. To Forget has foundations of forgotten chambers and dusty accoutrements, of discontent and decay, but its bright arrangements climb towards parting clouds, warm where once there were bitter shadows.
Thordson has said that his catalogue is marked by "extremely negative grievances", but there’s little gloom to this nine-song set once the opening title track is successfully navigated – a funereal march set to sombre strings, it’s end-credits fare for a flick depicting a devastated landscape throughout its final reel, dramatic but, despite pretty xylophone embellishments, ultimately dogged by despair. Once Thordson opens his vocal cords, though, the album sings into life: Black Shroud lets its moribund moniker fall, attractive percussive spirals and umbral synth sighs combining with understated lyricism to comprise a most appealing four minutes. Sad, Sad Song is similar in not quite reflecting the tone of its title – it’s downbeat for sure, but there’s optimism to Thordson’s vocals here: "Some of us wanted to love this time," he says, through a gauze of acoustic guitars. Think to the slowcore dynamics of Low for a suitable parallel.
AWITN’s embracing of a wider-screen sound for this fourth collection proper doesn’t compromise their affecting intimacy. Every Blade of Grass perfectly illustrates a fine balancing of punchy, insistent writing – the drums here crunch with real bite – with a vulnerability that endears the listener to these musicians’ cause without threatening to spill into melodrama. At times the layers mount and the end product is closer to typical post-rock than anything labelled as more experimental – but what’s never lost sight of is an intrinsic beauty shot through each and every piece. There are moments on All My and Your Hand, and the delicate piano instrumental Maya’s Song, where time around the listener just… stops.
And when one is back in the room, a greater respect for bands that emphasise elegance over pronounced advancement is evident. It’s not reinventing anything, this – but AWITN craft such beauty that, compared to this set, the likes of Sigur Rós sound as unruly as snot-nosed punk upstarts.