"… an exceptionally well-crafted CD that marries experimental and pop…"
Gentle Party: Elisa Thorn, harp; Jessicka Ylirussi, voice; Meredith Bates, violin; and Shanto Acharia, cello. Phonometrograph, 2017.
Jouska, (noun): a hypothetical conversation that you compulsively play out in your head; a psychological batting cage.
We all do it; play out both sides of an argument, giving ourselves the upper hand, always possessing the perfectly timed comeback and inevitably winning. What does it mean in the context of a musical ensemble? In the case of the Canadian quartet Gentle Party—Jessicka Ylirussi, voice, Elisa Thorn, harp, Meredith Bates, violin, and Shanto Acharia, cello—it’s a pulling back of the curtain for us to witness their own imitate conversation, sometimes as a committed front, other times, off on their own sonic explorations. It is a wonder of mystery and melancholy but filled with a kind of playfulness that simply will not allow us to avert our gaze.
Jouska opens with “Ghost Writer.” Jessicka’s sultry come-hither tone is punctuated by the sparkling and warm, grooving lines of the strings. Atmospheric, as hypnotic you could dance—you will want to—but it is as if in a dream, the cello keeping time through the fizzy swirl of sound in a funky pizzicato. “HYHM,” which stands for hurting you hurts me, is precisely the energy of this disc. Maudlin, yes, but in a way that doesn’t quite believe the pieces being picked up of past broken hearts will not be lived through with class and elegance because the protagonist continues to wear her homecoming crown even tarnished by the passing years.
“Trophies” is a favorite with percussive qualities more exemplified by knocking on the instruments and short, choppy chord strums setting up a teasing, jaunty rhythm in a song that knocks human striving and always having to be the best. What are we proving? Look how far we’ve come, look at what we’ve done! Ominous and as if a warning, “Little Tigers” pulsates in its repetitive chaconne-like descending pattern, driving directly to the heart as the music only takes a breath before the haunted darkness of “Of Light.” Elisa Thorn’s sweeping improv solos here are particularly noteworthy.
The title track begins with the sound of children and other ambient sounds as if off in the distance, jumbling into waves of indistinguishable sound before Elisa pulls us gently away into a kind of virtual reality with a gently repeating pattern in “Boy Children.” Shanto Acharia’s longing cello lines leave us guessing the meaning; are boy children better than girls? Isn’t this what we’ve always been told? All right before the instrumental trio shakes us up, breaking into a sped-up tango rhythm, driving and relentless. It’s one of the most thrilling moments of the recording before the next crescendo in a kind of clangy Peking opera experiment in sound.
In “Bee Dreams,” a song that follows an intense dream, things begin to really get out there and experimental. Creative, inventive, and like nothing you’ve ever quite heard before, definitely could be a soundtrack for your next nightmare. The final work “Glimpses” wraps everything up, the gazing at the navel, the questioning and searching with the words, “How long has it been, the start of the end?” This is an exceptionally well-crafted CD that marries experimental and pop and will leave you wanting to listen over and over.