[26 June 2014]
“…it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain, and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.” – Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham in American Beauty (1999)
Much of popular music is designed to be easily consumed, so much so that it is practically utilitarian. It works on dance floors and in bedrooms, a quick fix of earworm serotonin to pick you up and tide you by. Sometimes you want a wholesome meal, and sometimes you want a chocolate bar. But you can’t live a healthy life only eating chocolate bars, and a good meal can be both nourishing and delicious. Thank the gods that there are still artisans like William Ryan Fritch out there satisfying the nutritional needs of the soul, digging deep and following their vision regardless of the whims of taste, crafting music that tells the story of a lifetime in not so many words.
Ever since Music for Honey and Bile, his 2010 installment in Asthmatic Kitty’s inspirational Library Music Catalog Series, Fritch has proven himself to be one of the most brilliant composers in the game, blending a desert plains post-folk Americana and refined conservatory neo-classical with the kind of experimental and compositional chops that come with a well-earned Mills College education. His works as Vieo Abiungo and under his own name rival the sophistication and creativity of Nils Frahm, Olafur Arnalds, and Hauschka. His beauty will leave you fustigated, raw emotion resonating from every sonic vibration in his expansive timbral arsenal.
Fritch’s latest work comes in the wake of the so-called “Leave Me” sessions, a period of exceedingly creative and plentiful production that resulted in several full-length albums and EPs worth of material. Leave Me Like You Found Me is the second installment in a series to be culled from these sessions, released by Lost Tribe Sound, a rising label noted for its incredibly artistic packaging aesthetic. In typical Lost Tribe fashion, the album looks truly gorgeous, and contains a wealth of bonuses. This is an album you can judge by its cover. Limited to 450 copies, the cardboard casing is wider than typical CD pressings, allowing the full gravity of João Ruas’s rustic, washed out cover art to resonate, while a double-sided artcard inside displays similarly contemplative work from Jamie Mills and Fritch himself. Making sure you get your money’s worth, the CD is accompanied by a 28-minute long bonus EP that flows from start to finish, almost as if it were a continuous piece. Though many of them appear half-finished, there are plenty of moments in that bonus that are almost as brilliant as the primary material.
Musically, Leave Me Like You Found Me is every bit as hauntingly beautiful as the artwork that adorns it. It carries you away from its first note, its rustic yet timeless instrumentation seeming to breathe like a conscious, living being. Inspired by Adele Romanski’s indie film that chronicles a camping trip undertaken by two ex-lovers attempting to rekindle their romance, the album is consistently both wistful and joyous. Contrasting the mood of Fritch’s work on the score for the essential Peter Nicks documentary The Waiting Room, which carried the ominous weight of the US medical system’s failings, these bittersweet studies reflect the hope for what life should be and the brutal honesty of what it is, but no matter how bad things get, the love remains.
There are no lyrics from which to derive this meaning. Wherever the music voice appears, throughout most of the main album or on “A Sad Whispering Wind” and the acoustic guitar ballad “Take Pause” from the bonus disk, it is employed as a tone, gracefully sighing and cooing. These elements give the pieces a human touch, but don’t overwhelm them. They are part of the ever-evolving textures Fritch creates, speaking to the ineffable cycle of hope and struggle that wears down the souls of travelers as they make the best of their journey through life on this lonely planet.
Throughout, Fritch seems capable of almost anything. One moment, the sleepy “Half Awake in Slow Motion” shambles along with a lurching beat and syncopated strings, and the next, “Weightless” drifts along with a slightly Oriental shuffle, a shaker, simmering strings, and perky guitar work, and the whole world saturates with new colors. The thundering bass and strings on “Reluctant to Change” practically alludes to his work with the Skyrider Band, going further with electric guitar, piano, and reversed marimba. His acoustic guitar work on “Reacquaint” and “In the Same Breath” brings to mind the work of a reigned in Leo Kottke or Robbie Basho.
“What Stays in Motion” is an orchestral psych-folk flourish that one wishes would go on forever, but is, after just over a minute, blended briskly into “A Slow Burn” (ironically one of this package’s most upbeat tracks, care of impertinent electric guitar work). Yet, maintaining an editorial eye over the whole affair, keeping it so precise and tight, means there is no filler to be found. It’s all top-class material, and a wealth of it, but it still leaves you wanting more.
On the whole, from the artwork to the music and track names, Leave Me Like You Found Me invites introspection. It feels like a series of daily affirmations, perpetually positive ruminations designed to give you a reason to get up in the morning. It feels like a work that has the ability to grow and change with you. It’s a desert island album, an album to unobtrusively enhance all the best moments of your life and stave away the bastard voices that crowd your fragile eggshell mind in dark times. It’s something to pass down to the younger generation, something that will outlive us all. It’s a piece of living history.