Laura Gibson & Ethan Rose: Bridge Carols

A very special and unusual collection, Bridge Carols unites the artistic gifts of folk singer Laura Gibson and instrumentalist Ethan Rose for thirty-five transporting minutes of ambient incantations and becalmed serenades. They're a good fit, Portland-based eccentrics who conjure wondrous ambient-electronic sounds from antiquated instruments (Rose) and sing in a distinctive style that's even been heard at local nursing homes (Gibson). The project in question came into being when Rose built electroacoustic backgrounds to accompany vocalizations Gibson produced using bits of verses from notebooks for inspiration. What ultimately materialized became the nine engrossing settings of electro-pastoral music on Bridge Carols.

So how does it sound? In “Introduction,” delicate droplets of sawing strings and piano accompany Gibson's multiplied voice, after which “Younger” unfolds gently, like a boat drifting downriver on a hot summer's day, with Rose's horns, percussion, and acoustic picking fashioning a soft bed for her sleepy musings. “Tall Grass, Dark Star” is like some glorious reverie long buried in memory finding its way back to consciousness. “Sun” shapes bell tones and music boxes into a stream of slivers and sparkle, while “Glocken” couples sleigh bells and treated glockenspiels (sounding more like steel drums as a result) to Gibson's wordless musings. The duo sustain the fragile mood from start to finish, and thankfully abjure any urge to modify the tempo.

Gibson's voice inhabits a space midway betwixt Joanna Newsom's and Bjork's, and if her singing is slightly less distinctive, it ends up being far less polarizing than the voices of her better-known colleagues. Gibson often sounds as if she's surrendering to her muse, and allowing it to thread stream-of-consciousness reflections through her vocal utterances. At times a soft murmur, her vocal presence is never less than entrancing, and the idiosyncratic backings Rose shapes from a mini-arsenal—acoustic guitar, strings, piano, music box, and bells—make for a perfect complement. He's no purist—Rose is hardly averse to exploring an instrument's sonic potential—but neither an unconscionable plunderer showing little regard for the integrity of his sound-generating sources. The package's inner photograph matches the mood of the music by showing the duo in the countryside, with Rose playing an acoustic guitar and Gibson activating an old reel-to-reel recording device. That photo proves to be as lush and panoramic as the sounds captured on this lovely recording.

October 2010