Slow Leaf Spell
Sea of Leaves
My heart sings a little bit when new music from Inner Islands arrives at my door. Previous cassette releases from Sean Conrad's Oakland, California-based label have brought me many hours of joy, and when new ones materialize I anticipate being transported again by the material's serene electronic vibrations, no matter the artist responsible. Of course Conrad not only curates the label, he also regularly includes a release of his own in amongst those of others, a recent case in point the sixth Channelers set Slow Leaf Spell. Recorded, appropriately enough, at Gentle Sound in the summer of 2016, the four-track release explores the impact repetition has on the individual (player and listener) when melodic patterns are played over and over, even if subtle inflections and nuances arise to differentiate one pass from another. Working with dulcimer, guitar, Juno-60, and field recordings (from a summer in Ohio), Conrad set out to monitor the ways by which he changed as he played those repeating phrases.
“Of Vastness” renders the concept into physical form in having a simple, four-note phrase intone through a thick mist of hiss and shimmering bell tones, the mutating textures wrapping themselves around the figure in a somewhat call-and-response-like manner; each repetition of the phrase engenders an amplification in the other elements, much like the rise and fall of a slumbering body. On side B, the stately minuet “Grace and Lightness” undergirds lilting dulcimer patterns with two-chord oscillations, after which the title track takes a seventeen-minute plunge into a resplendent sea of chiming guitar atmospherics, wordless vocal murmurs, and nature-based field recordings. As might be expected, such material has a seriously lulling effect.
Hailing from Pell Lake, Wisconsin, Steve Targo describes Sea of Leaves, his ninth full-length under the Inner Travels alias, as “very much a synthesizer album, with an organic feel.” Evoking gardens of peaceful splendour, Targo serenades the listener with sequencer-based settings on the first side and seeks to induce a trance-like state with the material on the second, the latter of which is recommended for evening listening. That soft buzz droning through side A's “Conversations with a Forest”? Slowed-down insects, naturally, that effectively augment the soothing tones and bird chirps otherwise fluttering through the meditation. Synthesizer patterns gleam and sparkle throughout “Warming Glow” and “Ripple Patterns,” so vividly the radiance emanating off the material feels almost palpable; vague hints of an Indian influence surface during “Deep Valley Sojourn” when ululating patterns coil around one another like snakes. True to Targo's word, the pace does slow on the second side, though the sense of calm induced by the material's entrancing warble is hardly objectionable. “Let these earthly electronics remind you there's a world outside that's filled with beauty,” he says, and the seven reveries on Sea of Leaves go a long way towards accomplishing that.
Melbourne-born and currently residing in Gainesville, Florida, Natasha Home rounds out the trilogy of releases with Rainbow Springs, her fifth full-length outing as Sunmoonstar, a project initiated a decade ago by the video game-inspired composer. Though Home is self-taught, she grew up in a home filled with recording equipment, thanks to a computer-building father and sound engineer mother, both of who encouraged her early explorations. Of the three recordings, it's Sunmoonstar's that shines brightest, with Home using synthesizers to produce a set of delicate electronic landscapes so lustrous and iridescent one could imagine them appealing to young and old alike. Oddly enough, fretless bass playing shows up on “Lyrebird” to give the tune a rather Jaco-like flavour, but the pieces otherwise exude a serene yet gently playful character. There's an innocence to her New Age-styled productions that makes them all the more inviting, and, further adding to its appeal, Rainbow Springs backs five pieces on the opening side with a single, twenty-five-minute opus on the flip. Birds chatter and chirp amidst soft, glowing washes and crystalline synth flares throughout the B-side's title track, the piece so evocative you'll feel as if you've been magically transported to the centre of some paradisiacal forest.