Thomas Strønen drums, electronics, percussion, moog, fender rhodes
Iain Ballamy saxophones, electronics
Christian Fennesz guitar, electronics
Recorded June 2013 at Holand Sound, Oslo
Recording producer: Thomas Striven
Engineer: Ulf Holland
Mixed February 2015 at Holand Sound, Oslo by Ulf Holand, Manfred Eicher, and Thomas Striven
Mastered at MSM Studio, Munich by Christoph Stickel and Manfred Eicher
An ECM Production
U.S. release date: November 20, 2015
For its third ECM course, the duo of Thomas Strønen (drums, electronics, percussion, Moog, Fender Rhodes) and Iaian Ballamy (saxophones, electronics), known together as Food, serves up its most introspective chunk of nourishment yet. With assistance from Christian Fennesz (guitar, electronics), who last guested on Mercurial Balm, the project burrows even deeper into its lyrical universe with atmospheric phasers set to stun.
Under the creative disclosure of This is not a miracle, Strønen has taken to crafting every piece using elements culled from hours of studio improvisation with the musicians and producer Ulf Holand, whose hand was so gorgeously evident in Nils Petter Molvær’s Khmer. Strønen admits to starting more often with a structural rather than melodic idea before cutting the music, in his words, “to the bone.” Cutting is precisely the word, as linear utterances became spliced, looped, and restructured into fully fledged, standalone grooves.
It would be tempting, once the distorted guitar and muffled bass beats of “First Sorrow” pulse their way into the mind’s ear, to place the origins of this music at a far remove from Earth, when really it is torn from the book of an internal cosmos. Brushed with fire and written in ashes, its pages glow with the allure of a sere orthography in “Where Dry Desert Ends,” making even this unforgiving territory feel like cashmere on winter skin. Drums add their skipping traction to the dunes, while synthesizer and saxophone cut the sky with their cloudless scissors. A marked shift in viewpoint flushes heat as if through an emotional exhaust system of continental proportions, turning the emptiness of sunset inside out as a gift for the coming dawn.
Much of what awakens thereafter draws its nutrients from somewhere between this planet’s surface and its core, a comfort zone of difference and sculpted time. Whether whirling in the title track’s dervish circles or overlapping reeds in “Death Of Niger,” crunching through the detritus of “Sinking Gardens Of Babylon” or drifting over “The Concept Of Density,” just high enough to traverse the highest mountains yet low enough to ingest the detail of every village below, genetics bleed through every joining of head and tail with the power of unifying color.
Whatever the means at hand, lineage remains at the forefront of Strønen’s sound-world. Khmer kinship is strongest in “Exposed To Frost,” of which Fennesz’s biwa-like twangs imply another world within, while the drumming of “Earthly Carriage” and “Without The Laws” has the tuneful attention of label mate Manu Katché. His simple guidance is as shifting as the sand of an hourglass, pulling notes by gravity into mountainous ends. Similarly, “The Grain Mill” seeks the chicken in the egg. This glitch-laden lullaby enables a searing emergence from Fennesz, who tears through the veil of dreams into waking reality, where coronas whip themselves in place of lovers drowning in self-regard.
Whatever poetry This is not a miracle might inspire, it is, as the title implies, a practically molded object. The band has since taken these constructions as cohesive compositions, performing them as such in live concerts. But their democratic foundation remains audibly intact, and is perhaps the greatest force keeping them from being sucked into the black hole of countless other albums vying for your attention. This one tugs as the moon does the ocean, leaving shores refreshed and glistening beneath its light.
(To hear samples of This is not a miracle, please click here.)