Colleen: The Golden Morning Breaks

Named after a work by 16th-century English composer John Dowland, Colleen's The Golden Morning Breaks is Cécile Schott's sequel to 2003's lauded Everyone Alive Wants Answers. While she assembled the debut from samples of largely acoustic material, some centuries-old and some folk sounds from other countries, Schott's new album is rooted in the sound of acoustic instruments played live entirely by her. But despite that difference, the two albums don't sound radically unlike; The Golden Morning Breaks similarly eschews synthetic sounds for acoustic instruments like classical guitar, organ, cello, and even a 19th-century glass harmonicon. Such natural sonorities add an historical dimension to the music and, consequently, the new album shares with its predecessor a similarly timeless feel.

Deepening that impression is the mood of the music itself: atmospheric, melancholy, and languorous, the ten pieces akin to once-visited locales resurrected through the refracting prism of memory. Peaceful vignettes like “Summer Water” are custom-made to induce reflection, with even song titles indicative of the album's lulling mood (“Floating in the Clearest Night,” “Sweet Rolling”); by contrast, “The Happy Sea,” a gently surging drone of organ glimmerings speckled by glockenspiel tinkles, is a rare loud episode. The collection is often minimalistic with many tracks featuring a single instrument or two; the guitar-based title track, for instance, features intricate lattices of melancholy strums and staccato plucks while the pretty “Bubbles Which On the Water Swim” limits its palette to guitar curlicues. One new wrinkle is the infusion of Shawn James Seymour's Lullatone sensibility into her music with a number of tracks suggesting stylistic connections between the two artists. Colleen channels his child-like sound on the bright lullaby “The Heart Harmonicon” while the denser “I'll Read You A Story” pairs a maze of sprinkles and tinkles with glissandi flutter and gentle guitar picking. On the downside, loud hiss occasionally intrudes; though it contributes a home-made ambiance, it proves distracting on pieces like “Sweet Rolling.”

That The Golden Morning Breaks resembles the debut isn't a bad thing, given how welcome an addition its novel sound was to the electronic landscape. When glacially flowing cello shudders drop away halfway through the eleven-minute, meditative closer “Everything Lay Still,” sparkling tinkles are left alone, suggesting an untreated set of wind chimes. The moment serves as an apt metaphor for the natural purity—a simulation, admittedly, given its final electronic assembly—of the album's music in general.

May 2005