Album Review: Vanek/Yager — ‘Ghost Actions’

No Touching Sessions // Doc Miller + Vanek/Yager,

Threshold Apprehension Sound (@Threshold.Apprehension.Sound, -- Thursday, Sept. 3 at 8 p.m.

What can you do during quarantine, when nothing you read or hear seems to suit the mood that hovers around the margins of panic? Something like this. What happens when ASMR stops working, and you need to give a voice to the strange background anxiety that bubbles from the margins of the newspaper, once patriots stop screaming about freedoms and accept that they’re terrified? Something like this. What happens when you want to hear the silence revealed in the skies after the storm: Something like this.

Released before the derecho, Ghost Actions almost presciently provides a glimpse of the beauty available in a maelstrom, despite the devastation. Just as the torn trees tossed in Cedar Rapids streets retained an almost sculpted look in the cracked limbs and uprooted ground, so also do the textures within the four track album.

“Ichor,” the first track, announces itself as an almost jazz-based improv, with Yager’s bass skills foregrounded in ways both bowed and plucked. Vanek’s bassoon hovers above these lower notes, accentuating them from a register inadequately featured. “Crowhound” provides the descent into chaos: Yager plugs in and relishes the feedback, augmented (one presumes) by Vanek’s prowess at sonic manipulation at an electronic level. The song slowly silences from its introductory storm, descending into a slighter sonic texture, inviting listeners toward nuance.

Once “Shadow Work” arrives, the first songs — good on their own — suddenly seem like appetizers to the main course. The song provides slight sounds of tapping, the muted bass notes, the slow evocation of filled space. The minimalist approach works well. It suggests all that was intensely overpowering in “Crowhound,” but in ways that allow space for the listener to engage. The scant six minutes spent in this song feel like a photonegative.

There’s no mystery about where “Arcane Hunger” begins, with its squealing feedback and reverberations announcing the presence of something new. The instruments here are less played than invited to summon some entity who lingers through the texture of the sound that sustains it. The sense of lack made present, invoked by the title, aptly captures the experience of the song — the continuation of the sound, pulsing, is a gnawing need that searches for its own cessation. It could easily serve as soundtrack to a story by Lovecraft as “The Music of Erich Zann” lingers behind it: touched, not named.

This album is an experience. It is worth finding headphones and a quiet room, falling into the wordless world created by the musicians. Those not used to experimental music — or instrumental music — may find moments of it jarring, but its overall effect is cathartic. As summer dries into an autumn beyond anticipation, as levels of grief, trauma and crisis compound, this album provides a space of empathy for the thoughts few of us frequently confront.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 286.

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