Peculiar and poetic
In Greek mythology, the Elysian Fields is a destination only accessible after death, a place reserved to the heroic, righteous few who were granted admission to the paradisiacal dimension. In reality, Elysian Fields is a Brooklyn-based musical duo, whose sonic surrealism confirms the mythos of their name. The duo, Jennifer Charles and Oren Bloedow, were inspired by Cáo Xuěqín, the Chinese writer who authored one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, “Dream of the Red Chamber,” which in China, is about as famous as Shakespeare is in English. In this project, they actually set some of the writer’s poems to music. What comes out of the alchemical sonic microwave of creation is The Transience of Life–an assemblage of sublimely de-conventionalized instrumentation with a dash of Chinese literary homage all bound up and sealed in neatly infectious hooks.
Honoring the title, all the little caprices in the songs are just as ephemeral as the last. As a rhythm gets good, another even better one shoves its way through. It opens with natural guitar harmonics, the ones that sound like your grandma’s wind chimes, and Charles’ really breathy, otherworldly singing. Yet it doesn’t last long. It transitions into another caprice that deploys this buttery, debonair guitar riff that then transitions into a quirky one that gradually fleshes out into something more palpable. Her vocals are Adele-esque and the only somewhat-permanent constant in the LP. Odd little ambient swirls surface throughout the foundationally anesthetic sound.
The next track, “Transience Of Life,” opens with a pleasant yet quizzical acoustic guitar line that inquires in ascending riffs. Charles’ seems to be in her element in this one vocally. It’s a really mellow and soothing track–one that may induce the more free-spirited to languorous gyration.
The album’s instrumentation is so idiosyncratic. In “Spurned By The World,” this meticulous, compressed electric guitar seems to continually awake with wonder at how it regains consciousness in a different environment than the last. It has a separate will of its own in the scheme of the song. There’s a meandering guitar line in “Sorrow Amidst Joy,” that sounds like it’s up to no good, looking to wreak mischief like a vandal on the prowl in urban night along with this discordant message-denial chord scratchily reverberating. She sounds like Siouxsie Sioux as she simultaneously laments and exults before the post-punky sound, whispering “useless” to fade-out. (Any chanteuse who can resemble both Adele and Siouxsie Sioux in the same album ought to be worth any’s admiration.)
Track ten, “The Indifference Of Heaven,” is especially bizarre. It commences with very low piano strikes that immediately instills a sense of solemnity and rumination. “The past seems realer than the present to me now,” Charles’ evinces against digitized arpeggios. Her cadence is a little out of key with the hook’s, which doesn’t lend credence to her musical prowess. Yet this is the only identifiable slip on the album as she ponders “eternity under the vast indifference of heaven” in a mode of abject existential emptiness. That abject existential emptiness carries on through the last track (“The Birds Scatter To The Wood”), wherein Charles’ sings the most depressing lyrics yet known to humankind: “All that’s left is emptiness/ and the grave for it.” First place prize. And, although this is the walk-away impression from the album, don’t let it mar the magnanimity of the whole thing. It’s a really wonderful album, even with all that doleful content.
All in all, Elysian Fields has produced something of a masterpiece. From the occasional violin and piri parts to the discorporate, kind of phantasmal singing to the syncopated and genre-confounding melodies, The Transience of Life is meant to coruscate.