Sandro Perri In Another Life

[Constellation; 2018]

Styles: temperance and serenity, pop litanies, slow-moving filigrees
Others: Arthur Russell, Julian Lynch, Mac DeMarco if he were post-(smog) Bill Callahan

Unlike other thresholds in the human lifecycle, passing into adulthood is the least tied to physical changes. Birth, adolescence, and even entering one’s golden years all carry transformations requiring no metaphorical elaboration. The wrinkles, spots, pimples… the actual growing pains are there. Instead, a monotonous stillness appears to indicate the arrival of adulthood. Which is pretty counterintuitive, come to think of it. When becoming adults, we almost literally settle into a new life — possibly for the last time — and the choices we make carry long-lasting repercussions. Indeed, they go beyond the realm of the personal and start to involve institutions. That might be the reason why we tend to associate adulthood with social conventions like getting a steady job, starting a family, buying a car, and a house, a set of rituals so rote that they border on the parodic.

It comes as no surprise, then, that few works of art find their inspiration in the final stages of the process of becoming an adult, those lacking the heightened drama of early young-adulthood — particularly in times when adolescence is not a fitting description for someone in their mid-twenties trying to figure out their place in the world. Nevertheless, two examples come to mind: Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha and Arthur Russell’s “Losing My Taste for the Night Life.” Moreover, the late composer provides us with a transparent clue to frame Sandro Perri’s newest album, In Another Life. The looped minimalism of Perri’s latest work links directly to Russell’s pristine ambient pop pieces. This is most evident in In Another Life’s titular track, a 24-minute meditational pop experiment taking a whole side of the LP. The delicate filigrees Perri builds and his unassuming delivery invite the comparison, maybe trying to summon Russell as one does in prayer, reciting simple litanies to beg for a saint’s intercession. And perhaps one can question the degree of mimesis involved in the music and sounds of this album — not that Perri hadn’t flirted with repetition and minimalism before — but Perri manages to invoke the essence of Russell to a remarkable extent. And that is no small feat, as many of the cellist-cum-songwriter’s living collaborators can attest, no matter the stylistic wrappings.

The other half of In Another Life, a three-part song cycle under the title “Everybody’s Paris” (which involves two guest vocalists and a runtime a few minutes longer than the titular track), somewhat diverges from the most superficial traits of Russell’s music. But it keeps a deep serenity that is not diminished by the emergence of more traditional song forms. Recognizable melodic and vocal parts aside, the two sides are held together by the LP’s originating concept: an exploration of long-form compositions and slowly evolving patterns. Anchored by a reverb-heavy steel guitar and an autumnal feel in its first part, a curiously calypso-leaning rhythm in the second, and the countrypolitan phantasmagoria of its final Dan Bejar-enhanced third, the three tracks have no grandiose aspirations or attention-grabbing clutches (e.g., big choruses, hooks, etc.). In absolute harmony with the LP’s first half, these tracks are strung together by an austerity one might mistake for detachment, until enough attention is paid to the emotion that the lyrics pack; it’s as decorous and abstract as the album’s architecture demands, but no less powerful for that.

In the frame of Sandro Perri’s career, In Another Life calls back to the pastoral touches of Tiny Mirrors (2007), trading its “earthiness” for a more sophisticated (if restrained) instrumentation and execution. And while it keeps the placid languor of Impossible Spaces (2011), his last LP before In Another Life, here Perri definitely approaches his songs in a more inward looking manner, with a beatific demeanor where he would have previously been sensuous. While his earlier material felt driven by a desire to share its chilled vibes, the longer pieces Perri presents here are satisfied with tickling the unconscious; they don’t call attention unto themselves and are strangely more successful for that. Less worried about singles or catchiness, In Another Life emerges as Perri’s most cohesive and concise work in terms of structure, form and content, which is a somewhat redundant way of saying within and among each track.

Serenity and temperance are peculiar words to use in praise of popular music, yet these are In Another Life’s most appealing features. Its greatest achievement entails the mindset it creates and invites the listener into, as the LP humbly ventures into well-tread musical territories. Moreover, the album outlines a moment when the Canadian composer shifts his priorities and interests from pop songs to laterally-moving pieces. And that process overlaps with a distillation and refinement of his craft, a progression one may hypothesize as analogous to what Amen Dunes went through earlier this year with his acclaimed album Freedom. Short of looking for wrinkles or blemishes, these albums might be the clearest signal we’ll find that the experimentalists, noiseniks, and weirdos of the last decade, the spirits who stirred the alt scene, are ready to enter a new stage.

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