By this point, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who is familiar with Sean McCann’s or Matthew Sullivan’s output that their newest record would be a tough one to pin down. Vanity Fair, like much of their oeuvre, is top-notch drone and clearly beautiful, yet when it comes to expressing exactly why Vanity Fair and its contemporaries are so engaging, words don’t offer too much help.
This doesn’t sit too well with me. I hear moments in Vanity Fair, the second release on McCann’s new label Recital, that bear resemblance to sounds I know and love: the creaks of the first side could easily have originated from Graham Lambkin’s apartment; the chirping of springtime later found therein might as well have been from Klaus Filip’s lloopp software; and the entire album is awash in the same tonal romanticism of McCann’s gorgeous The Capital. Indeed, Vanity Fair is a patchwork of much of what I love in this sort of music, yet why is it so hard to articulate with words?
Here, I’m reminded of Michael Pisaro’s fields have ears series. In a description of the idea behind these pieces, Pisaro wrote “that position might be more important than time in hearing; and that the sounding configuration of a world can be understood (differently) from an infinite number of points.” Although I’m not sure whether McCann and Sullivan literally enact Pisaro’s spatial concept, I do believe his principle applies to Vanity Fair and similarly ephemeral music.
In the context of Vanity Fair, then, this means that when we hear music by the likes of McCann, Sullivan, and others, we are also hearing sounds of past recordings, fields of spring awakenings and primates crying, elements that carry priors that do not translate to this set. Our ears forget our previous positions, now hearing each note of Vanity Fair from new vantages. Perhaps this explains the indelible nature of this record and drone at large: it manages to congeal what we know into a stew of gorgeous ignorance. This is the charm of Vanity Fair: it’s new, it’s fascinating, and it forces us to feel, rather than intellectualize, its sounds.