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Mind Over Mirrors
Bellowing Sun Brendan Telford , April 9th, 2018 08:21

Jaime Fennelly, in cahoots with various excellent collaborators, makes another joyful transcendental record

It’s just over a year since Chicago outfit Mind Over Mirrors released their last album, Undying Color, a suite of drone aesthetics that felt like being suspended in siliconised formaldehyde, forever held in its tripped-out embrace. Yet Jaime Fennelly’s motorik synthetic synaesthesia knows no bounds, hence the arrival of sonic opus Bellowing Sun. Essentially the aural accompaniment to an installation commissioned by the Museum Of Contemporary Art in Chicago, this album feels like the conclusion of a journey and also like a moebius strip – we end up back at Undying Color, but with so much more than what we started with.

The inspiration for Bellowing Sun is the 90th anniversary of the publication of naturalist Henry Beston’s The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod. The key ingredient that allows the novel to transcend, and for Mind Over Mirrors’ electroacoustic miasmas to aurally replicate, is the description of the natural world in a metaphysical vein. Using a variety of instruments (synthesizers, Indian harmonium, zither, fiddle, drums) and artists from bands of the Chicago scene such as Eleventh Dream Day, Califone and Death Blues (and with Tortoise maestro John McEntire on recording and production duties), Fennelly intended the music to be played in the round, with the audience encircling the band and a large kinetic light sculpture (which features on the cover art) suspended above. The circular drum-like sculpture was intended to create an ever-changing architectural kaleidoscope of organic shapes and colours, but the 12 tracks do this on their own. They oscillate and breathe, melding in with the synapses of the listener and lulling them into a rapturous state.

Direct references to Beston’s novel abound. The gulls that inspire opener ‘Feeding On The Flats’ is mimicked by the pitter-patter of overlaid synthesizer; ‘Lanterns on the Beach’ is a hushed undulating call to the gloaming of dusk, with warm wordless vocals calling out of the flickering shadows; closer ‘Pause and Wonder’, a correlation of Beston’s analysis of butterfly migrations, overtly refers to this phenomenon through Janet Beveridge Bean’s lyrics while mirroring their ethereal yet desperate progress with gossamer synth and beats of portent.

These ruminations on the uncanny and transcendental from the furthest regions of the natural world permeate every track, as does the natural ebb and flow of life and death. The motorik rhythms that oscillate on standout ‘Matchstick Grip’ ascend towards another realm entirely, with Bean’s vocals appearing like a gas floating wraithlike over the vacillating rhythms across its near 10-minute march. ‘Zeitgebers’ has even greater krautrock leanings, the percolating kosmische thrum and purr punctuated by fiddle.

‘Vermillion Pink’ stretches out into a more unhinged dystopia, a flipside to the joyous approach of the songs before it. Darkness prevails on the echoed drumming in Jon Mueller’s ‘Acrophasing’, then there is the funereal siren call of ‘Twenty-One Falls’, a song that sounds like it really is out on the edge of the world, devoid of light.

What I love about this album though is the sense of joy – while certainly a work of conceptual art, focusing on the dark elements of the organic as much as the light, this is meant to be enjoyed, not endured. There is the hoedown whimsy of ‘Oculate Beings’, the warm running notes and shuffled drums that accompany the march of ‘Talking Knots’, the sonorous harmonising of ‘Halfway To The Zenith’. The minimalist rhythms and loops, the vocals, whether lyricised or broken phonemes, the ‘traditional’ instruments, all meld into an awe-inspiring opus of limitless revelry.

In 2018 the shack that Beston lived in, on the edge of the world, is no more, having been swept to sea and become part of the swirling mass of nature. Mind Over Mirrors’ Bellowing Sun has assured us that there is more than one way to leave your mark on the world.