Clay Rendering Snowthorn

[Hospital; 2015]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: post-punk dirge, ethereal/dark wave, dark ambient, drone pop, Goth
Others: Dead Can Dance, Deathprod, Black Heart Procession, Barnett + Coloccia, Midnight Radio, The Stranger, Main, Pure X, Jessica Bailiff

If, like me, your brain is swimming with the medieval fantasy gristle that is Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law Trilogy, then this album title immediately calls to mind some ruddy dude covered with crudely stitched-together animal skin and callouses so sharp they could rake trenches in your face. While its songs are more icy than bloody, Snowthorn still cuts deep (you just might not feel it right away). After two murky but insidious singles and a promisingly addictive EP (featuring the epic diagonal smear that is “Temple Walking”), Snowthorn flashes through the trees and into your clearing. But no real carnage ensues. A ragged warrior, eternally lost. Snowthorn is at the mercy of not only the elements, but also his own dumb awe at their impossible beauty.

“What do each of you do other than music?”
“Make fires and watch movies like Just Before Dawn and Curtains.”

Members Tara (The Haunting) and Mike Connelly (Hair Police, Wolf Eyes, Failing Lights) nest and make music together in Dearborn, MI and seem pretty happy. If one were to take the underwhelmed view, they could easily say that Snowthorn is what happens when artists find contentment. This view would most likely find purchase for the listener on the opening/closing tracks. And there’s no way around it: the plain processions of “Maps on the Floor” and “Night to Perish” are pure prelude/postlude. You’re silently following the queue to a pew. You’re lighting incense and waving that shit all around. You’re arranging your thoughts, trying to put them away in the proper order. Maybe you’re just clearing off the coffee table while your loved one dozes off to the credits of Messiah of Evil. What makes this flatness stranger still is that “Maps…” is followed by what easily could’ve been the stronger introduction. “Swallow the Century” is a dreamy, dreary meditation that works like a companion piece to this song. But it’s the beginning after the beginning and also somewhat misleading as a table setter (as gauzy as it gets here). And the piano figure-led title track plays like a plaintive LP retreat, even though it appears just four tracks in. Throw in the Another Green World-like “River Without” and the head-in-handed could easily wind up sleeping on the more persuasive material. Noise only wants love if it’s torture.

After many listens, the charm of this album lies in its crouched, calmly shivering vigilance, insistent as an eyeball ache. It is a vexing choice to sandwich the infectious, Tara-led wiper blade strut of “Sight From Up Here” between a lot of minimal, unassuming ambient shading. But the structure of Snowthorn steadily becomes its own animal over time. It endears as a dark pop album with a relaxed, deliberate sort of flair for ritual tableau. Although there are only four proper songs with vocals, the remaining five tracks serve to cast them in soft yet portentous light. Mike’s vocal hooks on tracks 6-8 are so strong as to make you forget how formally dry much of the album has been. “Fall Off the Bed” is the kind of song that could anthemize a petulant sulk but in the end conveys more of a collar-flipped, wind-burnt resignedness. These are songs of solemnity, dread, and decay, yet they don’t shrink from the dodgy reassurance of quixotic, weathered, and maybe even a bit mundane genre aesthetic. Maybe Snowthorn isn’t especially ambitious beyond its asymmetrical sequencing, but it is still entrenched and passionate enough to be rapturous for the patiently like-minded.

Links: Clay Rendering - Hospital

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