Glissando: With Our Arms Wide Open We March Towards the Burning Sea

Though Glissando has existed since 2002, the recent demise of the long-term relationship between co-leaders Elly May Irving and Richard Knox understandably threw the band's future into doubt. Supporting Stars of the Lid at the Holy Trinity Church in Leeds proved to be rejuvenating, so much so that Irving and Knox, abetted by accompanying musicians (tellingly dubbed “The Fleeting Glimpse Ensemble”), decided to push ahead, with the seventy-minute opus With Our Arms Wide Open We March Towards the Burning Sea the ambitious result.

The moan of Thom Corah's trombone in “We Are Depleting” opens the album in an affecting hymnal spirit, a mood carried over into the yearning melancholia of “With a Kiss and a Tear.” Instrumentally, Glissando offers a majestic and elegiac blend of violin, piano, guitar, and trombone, with an occasional sample adding cinematic ambiance; vocally, Irving is a powerfully emotive singer whose pure and sometimes impassioned delivery calls to mind the singing of the slightly more technically perfect Annie Haslam whose voice graced Renaissance albums so many years ago (the similarity is strongest in “Floods” where Irving's voice sounds almost identical to Haslam's during the phrase “And tell us to breathe deeper than we ever have before”). On this recording at least, Glissando's music is haunting and, yes, haunted, especially when the songs include lyrics as bleak as “I know your name, I know your face / It started quickly, all this pain,” “This sadness speaks volumes,” “You made me kill myself,” and “There's a method to our madness / But tonight the answer's lost.”

The Stars of the Lid connection extends further than a supporting concert appearance: the celestial fifteen-minute centerpiece “Like Everything You See” is SOTL under a different name—not that there's anything terribly wrong with that when the piece's silvery tones exude such twilight tranquility. And the most stirring section in the fourteen-minute “Floods” is the instrumental passage that arrives after eight minutes when the instruments swell into a shimmering, ghostly mass that's also SOTL-like but nevertheless beautiful. The classically-tinged “Always the Storm” wraps Irving 's vocal and Angharad Cooper's (Held By Hands) sinuous violin around piano playing that's both ruminative and possessed while elsewhere richly atmospheric vignettes (“Goodbye Red Rose! This Was Not For You”) alternate with long-form settings of ghostly character (the ethereal whispers of the album-ending “Our Flags Wave and Our Arms Are Around Another's Shoulders”). Yes, With Our Arms Wide Open We March Towards the Burning Sea is overlong—as lovely as it is, the penultimate “Grekken” doesn't sonically offer anything the album hasn't already provided—yet the sincerity of the group's intent is never in doubt.

July 2008