Birds of Passage & I've Lost: Split
Heat Death Records

Gender considerations aside, Alicia Merz's touch is definitely King Midas-like, as evidenced by the wonder and enchantment that emerges whenever the New Zealand-based songstress behind the Birds of Passage screen puts her voice to wax. She's elevated recordings issued under her own name (Winter Lady) and collaborations with others (Leonardo Rosado's Dear and Unfamiliar) and does so once more on this twelve-inch coloured vinyl effort (100 copies) with Oregon's Bobby Jones (aka I've Lost). Both split and collaboration, the release pairs a fourteen-minute joint effort by the two artists on side A with separate shorter pieces by each on side B.

Their collaboration, “I Was All You Are,” unfolds in the same magnificently slow and haunted manner as the already issued Birds of Passage material. When Merz's voice appears, it does so as an ethereal presence, something so spirit-based it's hard to picture a body conjoined to the voice. Like time-lapsed nature photography, the music itself drifts in dream-like fashion, delicately wrapping itself around the fragile voice as it does so. As much as I love Merz's singing, I also appreciate being given an opportunity to hear I've Lost by itself, and “Never Said Goodbye,” which meditatively whistles and hums in classic ambient style (listen carefully and the ghost of Eno's “Discreet Music” seems to rise off of its gently warbling surfaces), certainly speaks highly of the quality of Jones's own work. The album closes with Birds of Passage's “Bullrush in the Sun,” another bewitching example of her indelible songcraft that finds her breathy chant and dark chords accompanied by faint echoes of children's voices and other enigmatic sounds. I have no idea what kind of impact Birds of Passage has in concert or whether Merz even performs live, but, in some ways, I'd almost prefer that she not do so in order to keep the illusion of her spectral presence intact.

March 2012