Offthesky: Creek Caught Fire
The Land Of

Color Cassette: Forever Sparrow
Autres Directions In Music

It's significant that Creek Caught Fire is Offthesky's full-length follow-up to the 12k EP Creek Studies (actually on the 12k sub-label .term) since Jason Corder's new release might just as easily have been issued by 12k too. Certainly the meditative, electroacoustic style of the material would sound right at home on Taylor Deupree's label, and the inclusion of outdoor field elements associated with the Appalachian (red river) area lends the release's eight pieces a natural character that's also not unlike some of Deupree's own recent work (e.g., the recent Northern re-issue and ROOM40 EP Landing). Electronic textures and “real-world” sounds unhurriedly mingle together throughout the recording's oft-tranquil thirty-eight minutes, with Corder apparently drawing upon an EEG system, heart rate monitor, temperature sensors, drawings, photographs, and writings (about smells, weather patterns, and cultural climate) as source material for this release. The sonic palette isn't necessarily unique—Corder's tracks aren't the first in the “textural ambient” genre to have been built from soft clicks and rattles, pops, vaporous drones, crackle, whistling tones, footsteps, scraping noises, traffic sounds, and so forth—but the care with he arranges and balances the elements is nevertheless satisfying. The elegant, ghost-like calm of “Tunnel Art” is arresting indeed while the brooding backwoods scrape, clatter, and twang of “Heart of Midlight” transports the listener to considerably less soothing territory. We're told that Corder's career has consisted of “painting sound” (among other things) and a more apt description for what he's doing on Creek Caught Fire would be hard to find.

He also intended Color Cassette to be a solo project but it gradually evolved into a collaborative one with Corder (vocals, lyrics, vibes, melodica, drums, guitar, bass, etc.) partnered with Lendin Hopes aka Set In Sand (drums, programming) and augmented by multiple guests: Clint Colburn (vocals), Colin Campbell (drums, vibes), Anna Hess (violin), and Jordan Munson (textures, field recordings). In total, fourteen musicians contributed to recording sessions in a Lexington, Kentucky home studio that stretched over four years with a forty-minute concept album the result. There's an expansive character to Color Cassette's material as ornate instrumental touches—banjos, thumb piano, electronics, glockenspiels, et al.—pop up throughout the album's eleven pastoral wonderlands. What results is hazy ambiance befitting Forever Sparrow's story which describes a boy who gets lost in a magic forest and, upon being transformed into a sparrow, chooses to remain in this forest forever. Certainly there's no shortage of forest-like evocations in the water and bird sounds (some derived from field recordings) that intermittently punctuate the songs, and the soft vocal harmonizing only enhances the dream-like atmosphere. During the album's suite-like presentation, mood shifts occur from one song to the next, from the relaxed (the opening shuffle “Black Nest Waters”) and breezy (“Lost At Least At Last”) to the mysterious (the ballad “Angels In Ashes”) and even somnambulant (“Ballad For A Yeller Bastard Bird”). “Little Yellow Light” is so light-hearted it even includes whistling and a lightly swinging walking rhythm that almost verges on folk-techno. Mention also must be made of Hess whose mournful violin makes its presence felt on “Angels In Ashes” and “Forever Sparrow.” The sleepy “bedroom” feel of the material has a tendency to camouflage how rich in detail and compositionally accomplished Forever Sparrow actually is. Don't be fooled by the placid and unassuming veneer of what is actually an exceptionally strong recording.

February 2009