William Basinski, "Lamentations"
I suppose I am predisposed to enjoy any major new statement from William Basinski, given my undying love of both hypnotic repetition and tape loops, but I was still a bit blindsided by the dazzling heights he sometimes reaches with this latest opus. That said, the heart of Basinski's vision remains mostly unchanged, as Lamentations is yet another album lovingly assembled from his seemingly bottomless archive of distressed tapes ("over forty years of mournful sighs meticulously crafted into songs"). The mood and structure this time around are fairly far from Basinski's usual comfort zone, however, as these twelve eerie miniatures feel like a hallucinatory stroll through a haunted and rotting opera house.
Such an aesthetic is generally just fine by me (though not my favorite of Basinski's album-length visions), yet Lamentations feels legitimately brilliant when it transcends mere mystery- and sadness-soaked ambiance, as it does on the swooningly operatic centerpiece "Please, This Shit Has Got To Stop." With that piece, Basinski attains a level of heavenly melodicism and emotional intensity that I have not encountered in any of his previous work. The rest of the album, on the other hand, generally feels like an atypically murky, brooding, and subtly nightmarish twist on his usual loops of ravaged tape. However, there are also a few second-tier highlights like the swooningly angelic "All These Too, I, I Love" or "O, My Daughter, O, My Sorrow," which approximates the strains of a great This Mortal Coil song drifting through a supernatural fog. As such, Lamentations lies somewhere between a somewhat uneven album and a significant creative breakthrough. For now, Basinski has not fully mastered how to craft short loop-driven compositions as consistently mesmerizing as his classic longform work, but I suspect he will get there soon: adding chopped classical vocalists to his arsenal was definitely a welcome and wonderful flash of inspiration. More importantly, "Please, This Shit Has Got To Stop" may very well be the finest piece that he has ever released. While I suspect I could happily listen to variations of El Camino Real or 92982 forever, I am absolutely delighted that there are still some fresh ideas lurking in all those decaying tapes.
Samples can be found here.