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Rabbit Eclipse Tristan Bath , December 11th, 2015 10:05

After the release of their self-titled debut full-length in 1996, Polish group Księżyc (literally 'Moon') disappeared into underground music mythology. 17 years later, and they finally reformed in 2013, soon returning to live performance (at Unsound 2014 no less). By all accounts, the magick that imbued their mix of ancient slavic folk music, 20th century minimalism, and melancholy ambience remains utterly intact, and two years hence we have Rabbit Eclipse. The album was recorded between May and September this year in Królikarnia, a palace situated in the embassy district of Warsaw, which dates back to the 1780s and, it would seem, houses the sort of dreamy sonics and bouncy stone walls that could make a wet fart sound like some sort of heartbreaking ancient ritual (which in many ways it sort of is). However, the original function of Królikarnia's grounds were as a royal rabbit-hunting ground, hence the English translation of Królikarnia, "The Rabbit House", and the English title of the album.

Rabbits and hares have always garnered an array of symbolic meanings to cultures around the world, often in close association with the moon. In the contours of the moon's surface for example, East Asian folklore saw the image of a rabbit concocting an elixir of life. European pagans however, saw sex and fertility in the promiscuous little buggers. Thus to hunt and kill rabbits is to hunt down and eliminate promiscuity and life in its sheerest essence - more or less the aim of the Catholic church, which is practically more potent in Poland now than it ever was. The rich atmospheres and environment of Rabbit Eclipse can't help but carry some hidden burden. Between the drones, behind the voices, and just out of sight, this music is playing out as an elegy for certain absent spirits, or even suppressed predilections.

Księżyc's origins lie way back in 1990 where the name applied to a three-piece female acappella lineup featuring Katarzyna Smoluk-Moczydłowska, Agata Harz, and Ukrainian Olga Nakonieczna. In 1993, Nakonieczna left and three men joined: clarinetist Robert Niziński, accordion/keyboard man Lechosław Polak, and hurdy-gurdist and lyricist Remigiusz Mazur-Hanaj. The Nów EP seemed to arrive in 1993 with Księżyc fully formed as the most primordial form of folky experimentalism, with buzzing synths and clattering percussion underpinning soaring clarinet tones and the interlocking vocal chants of Katarzyna Smoluk-Moczydłowska and Agata Harz. The self-titled full length recycled most of the Nów EP, while adding almost a dozen new tracks that growingly made use of interweaving arpeggios and keyboard notes reminiscent of Glass et al. and the American school of minimalism without sacrificing any of that pastoral Polish melancholy (aided in no small way by Niziński's doleful woodwind). The production remained mired in ancient stonewalled shapeless reverb, as did the foreground vocal and wind instruments. The keyboard-driven underbelly however, veered towards something ever more pointillistic, modern even.

Two decades of inactivity seem to have done nothing but strengthen Księżyc's power as a unit. The variety of timbres employed by the group often conjures strange new vaporous shapes, shimmering and floating in mid air, dotted and accented by the distant pluck of a lute or glacial piano note. Mid-album ten minute instrumental 'Flażoletowa' (which seems to either translate as 'Harmonics' or 'Tin Whistle') treads water in the middle of a foggy dreamworld lake. A quiet synth loop haunts the entire track while randomised noises, plucked strings, and percussion quivering like tree branches in the wind litter the soundscape. If there were ever an instrument built to embody the sound of the lonely wandering inner voice, it would be the clarinet, and Niziński's playing juts right out here. He intones and tells tales in the sky above the building ritual clatter below.

The instrumental 'Flażoletowa' is an exception though, and the key elements of Katarzyna Smoluk-Moczydłowska and Agata Harz's voices are integral to the rest of the album. Opening track 'Kapkowa' makes notably heavy use of Polak's doomy accordion playing, but the duo's wordless vocalisations gently lure with a siren's inescapable tug. The briefer 'Mglista' ("misty") features some beautifully rugged and witchy vocal work from both singers. The lyrics are in Polish so I've no idea - could be a shopping list scribbled on the way to Lidl for all I know - but what it sounds like is a cry of sheer desperation; a widow's tears, a mother's lament. These cries are later mirrored in the clarinet playing of 'Walczyk III', taking place over a distant doom-laden piano rather than accordion.

The 16-minute 'Syreny' closes the album with the most powerful single statement, and longest track, in the all too brief history of Księżyc to date. A droning blend of hurdy-gurdy, with what could be fiddle or accordion, cycles on indefinitely, barely shapeshifting. The duo of vocalists strike up stirring and sparse woeful cries, long silky lines of emotionally shattering singing that soars for minutes on end. The background is awash of rumbling percussion throbs and swells of synth and keyboard drones and string plucks punctuating the endless droning core of the song. That opening drone remains unmoved, and the clarinet takes fully over from the vocals as the group disappear slowly from sight, disappearing down a rabbit hole. Or perhaps it's behind the dark side of the moon, off to share the elixir of life with the promiscuous spirit of the long-eared creature. Droning folk music has many immediate functions: the celebration of life; to unravel time before us with its duration; to mourn our Earthly losses. Księżyc have emerged from the wilderness as true masters of the art form.