The Silence Nine Suns, One Morning

[Drag City; 2016]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: psych, prog, folk, jazz, eclecticism
Others: Ghost, Masaki Batoh

Eternity, according to a recent interview with Masaki Batoh, is the one idea uniting his various projects. A nice concept: it’s ambiguous enough to cover a multitude of intentions, as well as the shadows and unthought forces amassed, as it were, behind his back when committing something to tape. But in the case of The Silence, it’s a particularly intriguing suggestion, because this project, more even so than Batoh’s others, seems well anchored in a particular 5- to 10-year period of the popular music of the 20th century, both in terms of their studio sound (rich analogue “warmth”) and style (instrumentation, composition, arrangement). What does it do to the entirety of past, present, and future to take this particular slice of time as the lens through which to view it?

Already in his previous band Ghost, Batoh had explored refractions of the primeval, immemorial past, of medieval and folk traditions in retrospect through psychedelics of the 1960s onward. But there was an undercurrent of “make-it-new” in Ghost’s work that, with the abandonment of digital studio technology and minimal overdubs in The Silence, seems to hardly be there now: the sounds of the comparatively near past take precedence over the present, and it’s only indirectly that the future figures in at all. That was one kind of eternity: Wittgenstein, for his part, said that if eternity was timelessness rather than an infinite duration, then those living in the present might be said to be possessed of a certain kind of eternal life. And yet eternity, to Boethius, is also the whole, simultaneous, and perfect possession of everlasting life, eternity being an endless duration. All of time or outside of time — no matter, I suppose. But to unroll the fragments of the past that they’ve enrolled in their perpetuity, that’s the ticket; to see the whole from within, one must begin somewhere where its presence is particularly concentrated, and why shouldn’t there be perspectives from which the entire mess is more easily disentangled? It’s all always to hand in every moment; all that differs is the extent of the confusion of the other moments. There might be, as it’s sometimes said, the latent containment of every moment of all time in every other moment, an infinite unfolding and refolding — and all the same, some of the connections are undoubtedly stronger than others, some lines easier to draw.

Of course, there is another, much shorter history that one ought to take into consideration. Nine Suns, One Morning is The Silence’s third album, which is enough time for them to have their own previous contributions to contend with. And in this respect, the album takes what’s gone before and bends it into new shapes. Their first album — originally intended as a Batoh solo album — was more subdued, albeit with a darker, more chaotic impulse that still surfaced from time to time; their second cut loose more: longer jams, freer forms, and more rock. Nine Suns, One Morning takes the abandon and higher incidence of riffs from the latter, the glimmer and self-sufficiency of the former, and the instrumentation of both — as before, any one recurrent motif (or “solo” or other lead intervention) is as likely to be carried by sax or flute as it is by guitar. But what’s particularly distinctive about this album, as an album by The Silence, might be the relative intricacy of the structures and, more specifically, their unpredictability. You could decompose a song to its elements and find none individually surprising, either within their history or the deeper one they are part of. And yet, from that analysis, that resolution, you could never find the key to putting the elements together again.

In the same way that it’s permeated by the past without being derivative, Nine Suns, One Morning is unpredictable without being arbitrary. If the distinction can be drawn between eclecticism and syncretism1 — a distinction that people, and I include myself here, are apt to forget — it has to do not entirely with the elements that make it up, but with the revival of ancient sources, the rediscovery of ancient sects: the eclectic draws these fragments the foundation, but uses them prudently according to a scheme, free from the spurious authorities of the past. The syncretist lacks the coherence, the discernment of the eclectic, and in the work of The Silence, the impulse — indifferent to foreknowledge and consequent on the revival of older sources as it may be — is systematic, creative, purged of all the obstacles to free, clear thought. (One could say: a correct, fitting form of appropriation.)

As for the elements themselves, we are spared the game of guessing its predecessors (elements are not the parts, but the constructions of analysis), both by Batoh’s own openness about his influences, but also by his penchant for cover versions. Every album by The Silence — and something that Ghost too were liable to do — takes Batoh’s personal-canonical tunes and rearranges them to a greater or lesser degree. Sometimes the covers are among the more memorable moments (their bombastic version of Damon & Naomi’s “Little Red Record Company” was a highlight of the last album, and I’d say more entertaining than the original), but in this case, the choices feel uninspired and uninspiring — The Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations” and “Louie [goddamn] Louie”? Still, it might be of interest to note that, especially to those who hold to the inviolable sanctity of the running order and the treatment of the album as an indissoluble whole, the covers are relegated to a separate 7-inch, allowing the option to skip them entirely if they don’t seem to measure up to Batoh’s hitherto impeccable good taste. As for myself, I’ve made my peace with “good taste” long ago. Besides, these are still songs by The Silence, even if they credit someone else for some words and a few chords. Species of eternity, friends, are to be found under every stone, and when you’re torn between two times — the present moment and, say, the late 60s/early 70s, for example — you’re already halfway to the Center, where there’s only rest and nothing of motion, and an Eye placed would see with one intuition, without succession, all in the Circle.

1. The distinction here is loosely based on the one found in Jacob Brucker, about which Leo Catana has written very informatively.

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