His Name is Alive, "Hope is a Candle"
Disciples' wonderful series of resurrected home recordings from Warren Defever's precocious teenage years winds to a close with this third album (coinciding with the release of A Silver Thread, which compiles all of Defever's recently issued early home recordings in one place). In one way, it can be said that the best was saved for last, as Hope is a Candle features remastered versions of some material from the demo that fatefully landed His Name is Alive on 4AD (which has circulated as a bootleg for years). To my ears, however, it does not quite rival the pleasures of All the Mirrors in the House, but that makes sense since Mirrors was the revelatory bombshell that unveiled this treasure trove in the first place. That said, the "songs" are sometimes a bit longer and more fleshed out this time around, making Hope is a Candle feel like an enjoyable outtakes collection from the project's earliest albums. While that is certainly enough to satisfy me as an HNIA fan, the album also boasts quite a lovely and sublime closing piece.
Now that this wonderful series of archival finds is (probably) at an end, it occurs to me that its appeal often lies more in hearing what a bored teenager with limited resources can achieve with sufficient vision than as a window into how the early His Name is Alive aesthetic took shape. After all, there are already several great HNIA albums out in the world, but getting a glimpse into how the young and extremely resourceful Defever worked around his limitations is considerably more instructive and inspiring. As Defever himself put it, "I wanted to do my own Music For 18 Musicians. But I didn't know 18 musicians; I barely had two friends, and even they couldn't stand me." While nothing on Hope is a Candle is in any danger of being mistaken for a classic Steve Reich composition, the album does feature an impressively varied and inventive series of song sketches. The strongest is the aforementioned closer, "Insiders," which is a warmly lovely and slow-moving procession of shimmering chord swells. "Liadin," the album's single of sorts, is a gem as well, as Defever deftly combines slow, chorus-heavy washes of chords with airy, jangling strums. Elsewhere, the swirling, reverb-swathed orchestral loops of "Nearby" are another sublime delight. That said, while Hope is a Candle does feature some song-like moments, it still does not quite reach the "songs" stage, so it has the feel of a collection of ephemeral highlights plucked from a mountain of improvisations (which is exactly what it is). At various times throughout this series, some unearthed pieces have transcended those origins beautifully, but the bulk of this album falls more within the "cool vignettes" category. Some of those vignettes ARE quite good though, particularly the all-too-brief harmonized acoustic guitar interlude of "Never" and the droning bowed strings and sharp harmonics of "Still."
Samples can be found here.