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Kara-Lis Coverdale, "Grafts"

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cover imageThis Montreal-based composer/producer/church organist has been quite hard to miss over the last several years, collaborating on Tim Hecker's Virgins album, releasing a cassette on one of my favorite tape labels (Sacred Phrases), and garnering much critical praise with her 2015 collaboration with LXV (Sirens).  For her latest release, she joins the Boomkat Editions series with this brief one-sided vinyl EP.  I am not normally a fan of gimmicky vinyl formats, but that condensed format works wonders for Coverdale, as her earlier releases were a bit too uneven, fitfully pastoral, and diffuse to fully connect with me (even though they all admittedly featured some occasional flashes of brilliance).  With Grafts, however, she distills all of the best aspects of her work into roughly 20 minutes of lushly melodic and dreamily multilayered sustained beauty.  In fact, in some ways, Grafts feels like an inspired negative image of Virgins, reimagining that nerve-jangling opus as a languorous, sensuously flowing, and gently hallucinatory reverie of hazy drones and rippling pianos.

Boomkat Editions

Grafts is ostensibly composed of three separate pieces, but the boundaries between them are so blurry that they seem largely inconsequential: this EP very much feels like a single longform piece that seamlessly blossoms into new shapes as it evolves.  The initial motif of the opening "2c" sounds like an elegiac and occasionally stuttering processed piano melody unfolding over a breathy bed of organ.  Each time it falters, however, it seems to restart with renewed depth and more complex harmonic coloration in the periphery.  After effectively establishing the piece's strange momentum, Coverdale launches into a distorted harpsichord-sounding solo.  For a while, that arguably becomes the piece's primary focus, but the backdrop continues to subtly and sneakily evolve, as the piano theme coheres into an obsessively repeating pulse as the organ chords shift around it.  In some ways, it seems an awful lot like classical minimalism, but there is a surprising amount of emotional resonance in those repeating chords and the various other layers unfold with an appealingly kinetic and organic looseness that bears no resemblance to the rigidity of Glass or Reich at all.  In one of her many great tricks, Coverdale repurposes their tools to weave something quite swirling and dreamlike.  Unexpectedly, that idyll is briefly disrupted by a strange small-scale storm of dissonance before the blearily gorgeous smears of piano resolve into the more sharp-focused and almost harp-like interlude of "Flutter."

With "Flutter," Coverdale trades in her more drone-like impulses for an undulating tapestry of sweeping and rippling piano arpeggios.  That is one just small part of a richly multilayered piece though, as muted organ chords quietly evolve in the hidden depths, pointillist single notes ring out in the foreground, mysterious fluttering textures creep into the periphery, and the air fills with hazy and angelic clouds of overtones and snatches of synth melodies.  It is very much a feast for the ears, though admittedly a rather short-lived one, as the final “Moments in Love” gradually emerges from the dissipating fog.  As it slowly takes shape, it becomes clear that "Moments" is quite a bit different from the swirling lushness that pervades the rest of Grafts, settling into a strangely simmering groove of shuffling snare and a tenderly played yet murkily blown-out-sounding organ melody.  Vestiges of Grafts' earlier passages continue to blearily hang in the air as a lingering fog, so "Moments" has the feel of a half-sensuous, half-broken coda of wounded beats and lazy melodies drifting from ruined, half-submerged speakers.  Such a simple and damaged-sounding outro feels weirdly appropriate after the rapturous and all-enveloping bliss of the earlier half, presenting itself as a well-timed come-down before heaven becomes numbingly predictable.   Naturally, part of me is mildly exasperated that Grafts is over so quickly, but that part is easily drowned out by the part of me that feels that Grafts is an absolutely perfect EP and easily the finest work of Coverdale's career.  I genuinely feel that there is not a single wasted second here, as every single moment of this EP is either bursting with inspiration or seamlessly setting the stage for the next beguiling transition.

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Last Updated on Monday, 08 May 2017 06:42  


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