And the World is Still Yawning
In isolated moments, And the World is Still Yawning reminds me of nothing so much as Mike Oldfield's Ommadawn, despite the decades separating the releases. Like Oldfield's still-powerful work, William Ryan Fritch's second full-length Vieo Abiungo album brings together multiple stylistic strands from different parts of the globe and turns them into transporting, acoustic-oriented set-pieces that in the final analysis transcend any one stylistic association (the distance between the two albums is at its smallest when Vieo Abiungo's “Feast Before Harvest” rolls out an ethnic folk dance performed with hand percussion, shakers, drums, and acoustic guitars). In the case of both recordings, the artists involved assemble the tracks layer by layer (through overdubbing in Oldfield's case and electronic means, presumably, in Fritch's). One major difference is that unlike Oldfield, who drapes his two long-form settings across Ommadawn's vinyl sides, Fritch packages his sounds into concise, three- to four-minute pieces. Another difference is that, with all due respect to Oldfield, Fritch appears, based on the evidence at hand, to be the more accomplished musician, technically speaking. Without wishing to stretch the analogy too far, it's conceivable that had Oldfield been born twenty-five years later and been less inclined towards crafting twenty-minute epics, he might have produced something similar to And the World is Still Yawning.
Fritch brings a remarkably vivid and vibrant sound world to life in the recording, with acoustic bass, guitars, strings, and exotic percussion prominently featured in its thirteen tracks. After “With Each Forgetful Step … Progress” sets the tone with a portentous, string-laden intro, “Treading Water” transports us to the African outback for a light-hearted, percussion-heavy dance. “While the Others Sleep” offers a ruminative, waltz-styled treatment, while “Drowsy Salted Morning” bolsters its haunting folk chant feel with the emotive presence of Fritch's cello playing (the later title track, a ponderous and magisterial snake-charmer in its own right, is similarly elevated). It's an album of many moods, sometimes diametrically opposed ones. In contrast to the sparkling uplift of “Our Racing Hearts,” for instance, “Insincerity Peeked Through Cloudlessly” finds the shadows falling and cloaking the material in darkness and depression. Despite their brevity, certain pieces nevertheless leave strong impressions, including “A Sad Swell,” where a woodwind mimics a bird's mournful cry, and “Still and Tepid Waters,” a too-short vignette that presents a graceful tapestry of delicate harp picking and plaintive cello melodies.
It would be hard to imagine anyone not opting for the deluxe version of the release, given that the sixteen-track remix set adds seventy-eight minutes to Fritch's own forty-two, plus the remix set, which boasts contributions from The Green Kingdom, Field Rotation, Aaron Martin, Nils Frahm, Tokyo Bloodworm, and others, includes two bonus Vieo Abiungo compositions (given the potency of its entrancing string melodies, “Thundering of Empty Promise” might just as easily have been included on disc one). In many cases, the remixes could pass for Vieo Abiungo tracks, so closely do they adhere to the style of Fritch's originals. In that regard, Aaron Martin contributes a beautiful, string-heavy intro before Field Rotation's wondrous “And the World is Still Yawning” rendering appears, its cello melodies navigating serpentine paths through a lilting bed of string plucks, bass lines, and cymbal patterns. Benoit Pioulard's take on “Drowsy Salted Morning,” on the other hand, is one of those instances where the remix becomes more reflective of the remixer's persona than Fritch's. That can't help but be the case when Pioulard adds his distinctive vocals to the musical material and transforms the piece into one that could just as easily sneak onto a Benoit Pioulard album without anyone batting an eye. Skyphone turns “Our Racing Hearts” into a languorous landscape, and even leaves room for an e-bow flourish or two, while The Green Kingdom does much the same to “Feast Before Harvest” in a serenading treatment. In addition, one-time Kronos Quartet member Joan Jeanrenaud adds her own considerable cello prowess to “What Lay to Waste,” Tokyo Bloodworm gives “Drowsy Salted Mornings” a bucolic, banjo-tinged makeover that casts a Balmorhea-like spell, and Nils Frahm refashions “With Each Forgetful Step … Progress” into a soothingly jazz-inflected piano meditation.It's only natural that the remix set represents a trade-off of sorts, as on the one hand the cohesiveness of the originating disc is lessened while on the other hand the variety the guests bring to the endeavour compensates for it to a degree. Regardless, there's almost too much music to take in on the remix disc alone, let alone the release in its entirety. As a result, the two halves constitute a more than credible follow-up to Fritch's 2010 Vieo Abiungo release, Blood Memory.Taken together, they show Fritch to be an uncommonly gifted composer, arranger, and instrumentalist.