Rafael Anton Irisarri: The North Bend

American composer Rafael Anton Irisarri has received justifiable acclaim for the material he's issued under his The Sight Below alias. But the work he's produced under his real name—the album Daydreaming (Miasmah, 2007) the recent mini-album Reverie (which included an inspired cover of Arvo Pärt's “Für Alina”) (Immune, 2010), and now The North Bend—is more than a match for it. Recorded in Seattle, Washington, his latest release is a superb recording featuring five, beat-free settings that are as meditative as they are alluring. The album's beauty lies in the quiet grandeur with which the tracks' melodic progressions repeat in lulling waves that gently rise and fall in intensity; melancholy in spirit, The North Bend's haunting themes are reminiscent in their potency of Eluvium's Talk Amongst the Trees, which still stands out five years after its release as one of Matthew Cooper's finest moments.

As listeners familiar with Irisarri's work would expect, the material on The North Bend is often deeply textured, with the pieces' neo-classical themes and natural instruments' sounds blurred by layers of grainy noise; only the barest breath of the piano's tinkle is heard, for example, when coupled with the surging waves that roll through “A Great Northern Sigh.” In part, the album represents Irisarri's attempt to replicate the natural splendour of the Pacific Northwest and the brooding sublimity that David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti captured in their Twin Peaks collaboration. As such, it's easy to imagine the hypnotic theme intoning within “Traces” as if it's emanating from behind the waterfalls that infamously appear during the program's opening credits sequence. The album's most soothing piece is its last one, “Deception Falls,” wherein the grainy click of a vinyl surface forms a textural bed for the glacial movement of ambient tones and elegiac strings. Here and elsewhere, a palpable sense of windswept fields and damp forests pervades the material, not to mention a sense of calm that verges on blissful resignation. Though it might be a mere forty-one minutes in length, The North Bend nevertheless impresses as both a remarkable and cohesive recording.

October 2010