Hints of A Higher Power
If someone who had not heard of Jozef Von Wissem looked at the album cover for his newest solo album, It Is Time For You To Return, they might think that he was a monk or a priest – or that this album was going to be one filled with devotional music to remind you of the love for some higher power. In reality, Von Wissem is probably the world’s most well-known lute player, having worked with director Jim Jarmuach on the soundtrack for his movie, Only Lovers Left Alive and did the music for the video game, The Sims: Medieval.
The lute is a medieval instrument that is a hybrid between the modern guitar and a mandolin; and just like the instrument he plays, Von Wissem music is a hybrid too. His music is a hybrid between pop sensibilities and classical music’s love of structure structures.
While these might seem like two musical elements that would be completely at odds, he melds them perfectly to evoke whatever mood or emotion he wants from the listener.
The first two tracks on the album, “If There is Nothing Left Where Will You Go” and “Love Destroys All Evil” borrow from pop music and work as a song cycle—one bleeds into the other, like watercolors on his vast musical palette. The former is a dark instrumental that sets an ominous opening tone. Then, suddenly, like the sun bursting through the clouds after a storm, the second song comes in, with its light and dancing arpeggio melody. This melody is contrasted by Van Wissem’s dark, baritone voice with almost no inflection, as he repeats the song’s title, being the song’s only lyrics. Despite his monotone and opaque delivery, it doesn’t come off as a warning, but rather a chant to hope.
His love of pop music shines through on other tracks as well. “Confinement” and “Temple Dance of the Soul” feature Domingo Gracia-Huidobro, who adds glitches and synths to both songs. What the electronic elements really add is a sense of uneasiness, a creepiness that cannot be described well with words. While, “Incantations of the Spirit Spell”—which features Yasmine Hamdan and is the best song on the album—gives off a sensuous vibe, as Hamdan’s vocals drip out onto Van Wissem’s dark lute and disperse its enchanting tone like a flowery perfume.
Other tracks, however, are strictly classical. On “Once More With Feeling,” he plays the lute with so much emotion that you can almost hear callouses forming on his hands, as he plays the piece over and over.
In the end, the first impression of Van Wissem might have been the right one. He is a monk and he is praying to some higher power. It’s just that this higher power is not god, but music.