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Geist & The Sacred Ensemble - Waning Hymns

Geist & The Sacred Ensemble
Waning Hymns
by Kira Schlechter at 22 June 2020, 4:02 AM

Timeliness in music – like making a social statement – is always good. But accessibility and immediacy is equally important. Without those qualities, your message can, well, lose its message. That seems to be the case for “Waning Hymns,” the latest from Washington state doom-folksters GEIST AND THE SACRED ENSEMBLE. The album, due out July 31, is described in their bio as a “study of Western consumer culture, attention spans, and empathy” that “asks us to redefine our self-worth.” Heavily instrumental, it’s made up of four long tracks, the shortest at about six minutes, the longest at a bit over 14.

“Advaita” (a school of Hindu philosophy, the word itself means that “the idea of the true self, or Atman, is the same as the highest metaphysical reality of the universe, or Brahman”) starts us off, and indeed it’s very Eastern-sounding, with tremulous guitar and throbs of bass that are so spare, they almost sound like warm ups or tuning exercises. A very heavy breakout with drums and a chanted, kind of spoken-sung vocal (Sauder shouts and spits the words to make them another sound, like the words themselves are less important) gives you the sense of the piece actually beginning. Periods of intense monotone strummed guitar and bass-heavy drums alternate with hushed, drifting swaths of sound and more of the chanting vocals. It kind of borders on some of the more experimental DOORS material – hypnotic, definitely abstract, occasionally compelling in its odd way. It’s not mass-market stuff for sure, it’s very specific as to an audience – those who use music to reach some type of existential plane, to meditate, to escape reality, to get transcendental.

“Volition” is similar in key, tempo, and feel to the first piece – minor key, atonal, with very low-end drums (actually everything is low-end here; there’s very little treble). More droning vocals lead into an extremely slow portion, slow to the point of having virtually no tempo. Like the first piece, this too breaks out into a loud and discordant section. A brisk military drum part and chiming, delicate guitar follows before it builds back up in volume and intensity and then returns again to the previous part. There’s nothing to latch on to in the conventional sense, but I guess that’s the point.

Vocally, this is like poetry recited over top of the music, something like the Beat poets of the ‘60s would do. Don’t look for verses or choruses or expect an always-clear vocal mix – in “Volition,” the shouting, echoing recording obscures Sauder’s words. He sings in a rounded, nasal, vaguely offhand way, with little concern for any particular technique or style. “Closed Eye” is the shortest track and again has no real tempo – it’s just drifts of instruments (keyboard, guitar, ambient sound) and occasional swaths of siren-like shrieking that reach piercing, almost unpleasantly disturbing levels. There’s no vocals here – this seems to serve as an interlude between the lengthier pieces.

“Century Of The Self” starts out with a vocal, a commentary on capitalism and consumerism and selling oneself out. It’s briefly amusing to hear Sauder cram the word “individuality” into a line, like there’s barely room for it, and he plays very loosely with fitting the words into the space given. This has a structure – no chorus mind you, but a structure, a groove, a tempo, at least at first. It becomes monotone, then Sauder yells and chants syllables for a while beneath tribal drumming and pulses of electric guitar. His singing throughout is very subtly off-key, even in the spoken section.The last portion is a fairly jaunty breakdown with more Eastern guitar/string/keyboard stylings and Yoder’s quite punchy drumming. And the sparse fade out tidily refers back to the first piece. Sauder’s shouted lines exhort change – “you are not a number, and we get outnumbered,” and “we’re tired of being bought and sold,” for instance. I appreciate what he’s saying and getting at and the suitably snide tone – but it does get a little preachy at times.

If we were at Burning Man, “Waning Hymns” would be the perfect soundtrack, but since we’re not…well…

Songwriting: 6
Musicianship: 8
Memorability: 6
Production: 8

3 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Advaita
2. Volition
3. Closed Eye
4. Century Of The Self
Lineup:
M. Sauder - Vocals, Hollow Body Guitar, Clarinet, Piano
S. Yoder - Percussion, Gong, Tympani
C. Segawa - Electric Guitar, Metal Spike
C. Howe - Electric and Bowed Bass
Record Label: Scry Recordings
     


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