Twigs & Yarn: The Language of Flowers

It's telling that “Laverne” opens The Language of Flowers, Lauren McMurray and Stephen Orsak's debut Twigs & Yarn collection, even if it is a mere forty-three seconds long. The reason? Like some broken radio transmission, the scratchy, hiss-smothered collage of vocal musings, bell tinkles, and whistling clarifies in an instant just how much the Texas-born duo emphasize found sounds within their song structures. The track that follows, “Static Rowing,” expands upon the intro's sound-world to include a dreamy musical component whose gently flowing percussion, wordless vocal murmurs, and atmospheric guitar textures prove soothing in the extreme. The latter style is the one that is more emblematic of the group's style, but the point made by “Laverne” is clear: this is ambient-electronic material that treats its collage and musical elements as equally important parts of the whole.

A typical Twigs & Yarn song grounds a multi-tiered arrangement woven from non-musical sounds and simple melodic structures with a slow-motion rhythm base. In that regard, “Flowers Thirsty,” which finds Japanese radio snippets abruptly supplanted by a drowsy, crackle-drenched mass of breathy vocals, bass pulses, and shimmering guitars, can be seen as a near-perfect exemplar of the forty-four-minute album's style. The duo gives its sound a slightly different twist in “If I Were an Artery” by adding the sunlit tinkle of a child-like melody and vocal fragments left over from some Boards of Canada session.

Field recordings are an integral part of the Twigs & Yarn sound (traffic and beach-side noise, people talking, etc.) but so too are the musical patterns that Orsak uses to lend the material structure and coherence. Apparently McMurray collected many of the sounds while living in Japan, things such as radio noise, temple bells, peoples' voices, and her own fragile and ethereal vocalizing. Orsak then wove the elements together, augmenting them with guitars, electronics, field recordings, and sequencers, to form the album tracks in their issued form. Their approach was to some degree set by a year-long separation that found them exchanging files using e-mail and FTP servers and progressively shaping the songs' diverse micro-elements into coherent form. There's a lo-fi quality to the songs, too, due to the basic recorders and homemade microphones that were utilized in the recording process.

Whereas much of the album plays like a meandering stream of acoustic guitar strums, electric guitar shadings, bells, and music boxes, the songs that stress the melodic dimension, such as “Marigold Ride” and “Strings of Complacency,” are more memorable than those that emphasize texture and mood. In the wistful latter song, for example, piano tinkles and a synthesizer's soft wheeze interact alongside soft vocals and lulling acoustic guitar patterns to create a lullaby-like effect that's arresting, while “Learning to Glisten” ends the album on a peaceful note in merging twilight musical textures with night-time field recordings of insects. Of course the Twigs & Yarn name itself implies much about the group's approach, given that it suggests the stitching together of sounds originating from unconventional sound sources, and certainly the album makes good on the implicit promise of the name.

October 2012