If 2012 wasn’t already turning into a good enough year for music for you now that we’ve just passed the halfway point, the line-up of albums coming out on Pesanta, starting with this self-titled LP, should have your mouth watering. For me personally, because of the incredibly visionary work put forth on the debut 7″ EP last year on Bathetic Records, this debut release from Wreathes has been one of the most anticipated albums to be published this year. Of course, the very fact that it was released through Pesanta should say enough about its quality in regards to music and product before you were even able to get a sentence into reading this review — after all, the label is now synonymous with the word. With that said, the band itself hasn’t failed to impress, though if you’re looking for the strong, bombastic appeal that “The Reigns” held in the original EP, you’re not likely to find that same spectrum of emotional quality here, though there is certainly plenty of emotion from other areas at work. In case you missed my review of “The Reigns”, it should be noted that Wreathes is a project from the Wisconsin-based gentlemen behind Kinit Her, Nathaniel Ritter and Troy Schafer. Any fan of that project should already know of the experimental and esoteric edge that these musicians give their work, and while Wreathes is an all-together different monster, it certainly still walks its own unapologetic path.
Wreathes describe themselves as “Perennialist Pop”, and everything about this phrase accurately describes the project as they mix the metaphysical philosophy of primordial tradition with the song-structure of pop music and very distinctive neoclassic and neofolk overtones. Those familiar with the original 7″, however, may find somewhat of a new entity here. Where “The Reigns” took us into the extreme of bombast, hammering percussive majesty and pairing it with the splendor of epic vocals, the new album pulls back the bombast a bit in favor of lush, overall grandiose compositions. Even “The Reigns” itself makes a reprise here, coming into being within a new skin. “Odes” opens the album and immediately showcases the full-scale of performance for Wreathes, again focusing heavily on articulate, accented vocals and a modest style of martial percussion, but including an array of atmospheric guitar melodies, synth and bell-oriented noises that lie buried, inhabiting the center of the mix. Vocals also play an integral part of the verse structure on this track, lining the background and adding one more layer to the melodic detail of the track. “Bones of Love” has a distinctly Eastern sound, again showcasing the importance of the vocals with a sombre yet inspiring fiddle performance from Troy Schafer and a subtle but very important bass-end performance.
The real surprise of this side is the re-working of “The Reigns”. It was hard for me, for a while after hearing it, to enjoy this new vision of the track. My heart was with the power of the original, but it has grown to become one of the best tracks on the release. The track opens up with an atmospheric guitar melodic line that is paired with gentle strums and the recognizable bass-line of the original. The chorus itself brings about much the same atmosphere, but this time with emphasis on trumpet as a primary entity within the music. The mantra-like nature of the song returns in full force, with a very sincere bridge towards the end, echoing the philosophy of “as above, so below” by repeatedly affirming “Up through the sky, down through the depths”, and flipping them around in staggered fashion as to imply the importance and equality of both.
“Speech of the Tides” has the least to say of all the tracks, but is somehow one of its most powerful through its tenebrous, murky textures and its tension-filled, foreboding ending and opening. “The Great Gate” is a down-tempo effort whose structure echoes the tracks of Side A, but whose lyrics encompass a greater meaning that is drenched in importance that is, as a full picture, easily seen but whose details are, frankly, all but lost to me. The final song in “Blessed Exits” features Burial Hex’s Clay Ruby on keyboards and, despite the slightly psych edge that they bring to it, the song remains as one of the most heart-felt performances, vocally, on the entire LP. A simple, repeated melody that embodies a humble 9 lines of text, giving rise to a glorious ending to the album.
It would seem that Wreaths’ debut is a complete, self-contained journey, starting with the declaration of “Odes” and its poetry proudly sung, spiraling through the transcendence of “The Reigns” and the simplistic, longing gestures of “Speech of the Tides”, with its final breath passing through “The Great Gates” to the inevitable spirited departure that is “Blessed Exits”. There is a story being told here, one that has many faces. On one side, it is tangible and exoteric enough that any modern person can grasp and find meaning within its lines, yet on another it is vague and introverted, a face whose meaning is ultimately found within the space between. Its lighted path is not simply lined with shadows. It is both. In its own way, and in respect to its own label as “Perennialist Pop”, it is both a visceral and intellectual mirror-image of Philosophia Perennis. One truth, many faces. To say that there is an obvious, vast amount of work put into this album is an understatement. It should go without saying that there is more at work here than the general love of music — this is dedication beyond music and beyond intellectualism. This is where the mind meets the spirit, manifested as a singular work of artistic prowess — a genre unto itself, deserving of its definition. “The alchemy of one and all, up through the sky, down through the depths.”
The album comes released as a gatefold 12″ LP with gold on red / brown artwork that reminds one of cherry-stained wood. The inside of the gatefold is a light lavender on dark blue and contains the weaving image of dead vine-like structures. The record itself comes on 180-200gm vinyl, either black or “splatter bone”, the latter of which somehow reminds of the coloring on Blood of the Black Owl’s debut. A stunning release visually and aurally.
A2) Bones of Love
A3) The Reigns
B1) Speech of the Tides
B2) The Great Gates
B3) Blessed Exits