Label: Gizeh Records
There were points when I was listening to The Great Lake Swallows when I couldn’t help but question what the point of music is. A lot of music that is made can be lumped in to fairly large, understandable categories when it comes to motivation – the desire for self-expression, whether with or without words; the simple joy of playing with friends; or dreams of becoming a rock star or impressing someone you’re attracted to. But then, there is music that feels more serious, where motivations and meanings run deeper than what can easily be expressed. It is to this last category that The Great Lake Swallows belongs, with the collaboration between Canadian cellist Julia Kent and Belgian guitarist/tape machine manipulator Jean D.L. being a record that speaks of great things, that taps in to that sense of true meaning, expressing something universal that transcends words and culture. It is beautiful; it is captivating; and it is emotionally devastating.
Despite only lasting twenty-five minutes, The Great Lake Swallows feels much longer; this is the kind of music that can consume hours of your time without you noticing or caring, immersing yourself in its waters. The four songs that constitute the record are best absorbed as a single whole, broken only in to separate tracks for convenience’s sake; they vary between the heart-achingly beautiful, the yearning, the ominous and the despondent, often within the space of a few movements. A lifetime of emotion is distilled in to these sounds, with the cello taking the lead throughout, weaving melodies both graceful and powerful; whilst field recordings, drones and tape manipulation forms the backdrop that allows these sounds to move, anchoring them to reality no matter which direction their explorations take them in.
Impressively, even though it contains such a wealth and breadth of emotion and experience, The Great Lake Swallows feels economical with its sounds. Nothing here is wasted or superfluous; where sections feel drawn out, as during the opening movements of ‘Part Four’ for example, this is intentionally so, to build atmosphere and tension, conjuring hypnotic spells through sound and space. It’s also notable how well the record loops back on itself, which adds considerably to its hypnotic qualities; a lot of musicians may consider how one song follows another, but it feels here like The Great Lake Swallows has been constructed with this looping effect in mind, with the end flowing in to the beginning. Which is also a large part of the emotional, almost spiritual feel of the record; a sense that, even if things are not as they should be, they will somehow find their right place; that all things are moving towards an inevitable conclusion, whether for good or ill.
And as such, I cannot help but wonder what the intent behind The Great Lake Swallows was when Julia Kent and Jean D.L. began to collaborate on it. It may have been originally intended as a soundtrack for a video installation, but this context is not necessary for the record to succeed. Instead, it feels like a strong, confident stand-alone work, created out of a need to express something profound and meaningful, to communicate something that is beyond words. As such, The Great Lake Swallows makes most other music feel shallow and superfluous to needs; nothing more than background noise compared to those sounds which truly matter. This is devastatingly beautiful, utterly vital, and has the potential to ruin you emotionally in the most wonderful of ways.