Exploration is the essential nourishment of the teen. Brains are still elastic, creativity is off the charts, and the concentration alone can be alarming. The brain behind the legendary 4AD group His Name Is Alive, Warren Defever, must not have been out skateboarding and challenging authority as much as you would think, because if the press release for All the Mirrors in the House (Early Recording 1979-1986) is to believed, this was a kid playing with tape loops as a pre-teen in the late 1970s. At 15, I was making tape recordings in my basement as well, but my output was so fumble-fingered and half-witted and that I hope that even I never hear it again. Left to his own personal devices though, a teen Defever was crafting serious, sturdy loops and drones. There are some whispers that the presentation might be a game for Defever (who is known for these things), but let’s focus on the music first.
All the Mirrors in the House is ambient, beautiful, and high fidelity. It’s that simple. As a piece, the album is cohesive as well. From the opener, “Piano Rev” to closer “F Choir”, it’s a mood-enhancing record through and through. It’s made mostly of drones and loops with a few languid guitar tracks double dipped in reverb and delay, and it’s fairly impossible to point out stand out tracks because the piece as a whole is superb for its genre. Personally, looping the record while reading or writing was a zen space worth the time.
The few tracks breaking the wave of sound are the two guitar-led tracks, “Something About Hope” and “Guitar Rev”. But if anything these tracks make the record a fuller experience, causing you to lift your head on occasion and notice the beauty on display, instead of falling into a faceless pit of drone and shimmer, which some lesser ambient releases can cause one to do. It’s an ambient record built for both the background and the foreground.
So, about the presentation: It’s a pleasure. Let’s use some comparison here. A painting hidden away in an alley is still a painting. A song credited a pseudonym is still a song. Lastly, Bob Dylan famously claimed he ran away from home and worked at carnivals. The truth was that that man was barely a teenage rebel in his tiny hometown of Hibbing, let alone on a national scale working with elephants and freak shows.
The point is this: Defever might be telling the truth and his pre-teen years were spent crafting beautiful high fidelity drones with shimmering highs and lows on a tape recorder in his bedroom in Livonia, Michigan in 1979. It’s a great story, and honestly, his status speaks to this probably being the truth. Yet, it’s also possible that this is all just part of the presentation of a piece and Defever is creating music based on a concept. With two more ‘Archival’ releases on the way, we’ll see where it goes next because the music is good enough to be enjoyed no matter the context.