Jordan Reyes
Photo: Katherine Squier / Courtesy of Clandestine Label Services

Jordan Reyes Faces His Fears with the Phenomenal ‘Everything Is Always’

Chicago experimentalist Jordan Reyes confronts mortality, anxiety, depression, and a pandemic with a cathartic new album, Everything Is Always.

Everything Is Always
Jordan Reyes
American Dreams
28 Oct 2022

The last couple of years have been tough for most of us, but Jordan Reyes – an experimental musician who has dealt with crippling anxiety and a pronounced, lifelong fear of death, in addition to everything that comes with life during a pandemic – was hit particularly hard. With the help of friends, antidepressants, and an understanding of Zen and Buddhism, Reyes has managed to confront his fears and transformed that catharsis into Everything Is Always, a unique and profoundly moving artistic statement.

“She’s upstairs, I hear myself say, as they barrel the stretcher to the second floor.” So begins “The Tide”, the opening track on Everything Is Always (released on Reyes’ own American Dreams label). Inspired by a medical emergency in Reyes’ apartment building involving his landlord and neighbor, the song is a reminder of Reyes’ close physical experience with death. Reyes’ narration continues, with drones and effects becoming more pronounced, eventually leading to an oddly peaceful mantra: “I can see my body in the void.” With a curious combination of doom and angular pop smarts, Reyes is accompanied by growling synths, gentle bell-like chiming, vocals from his wife, Ambre Sala, and an understated coda featuring Lia Kohl’s cello. “The Tide” packs a heavy punch, acting as a sort of lullaby of the acceptance of death.

The “void” Reyes refers to is likely a reference to the “angry void” he was seeking a spiritual antidote to, during those months of anxiety, according to Everything Is Always press materials. He was prescribed antipsychotics for his anxiety, which brought on an overwhelming obsession with death, darkness, and terror. Reyes eventually returned to SSRI antidepressants, “looking for a spiritual antidote to the angry void,” he says. “The one thing I couldn’t argue with was Zen. Suddenly the void was a portal, not an abyss.”

In “Would I Were a Moth”, Reyes continues ruminating on death, specifically a meditation on a moth’s death drive. Aided by Sam Wagster of Mute Duo on pedal steel, Patrick Shiroishi on woodwinds, Emily Harper Scott on vocals, and Kohl appearing again (and on every track except the futuristic soundscape “Kraken”) on strings, the droning effects of the music eventually morph into a somewhat peaceful music bed that combines melodic figures with light undercurrents of tension. Reyes continues along this path of mystery and acceptance by adding bits of mythology on “Tralineation”. With the assistance of Reyes’ ONO bandmate Travis on spoken word, the track – with words composed by Travis – is an appropriation of the minstrel song “Old Black Joe”, with elements of science fiction and transhumanism. Distorted bass, acoustic guitar, and Sala’s vocals are among the oddly combined elements that make up this truly striking composition.

On several occasions, Everything Is Always shows signs of slightly more traditional arrangements before the impending doom – and eventually, Reyes’ acceptance of it – takes over. “Maybe I’m the Dust” begins as a somewhat straightforward composition and performance, executed as a minor key, mildly doom-dusted folk song, with Sala’s vocals rising over the gentle guitar and tense strings. Reyes joins in on vocals before droning noise begins to creep in, as if Sala and Reyes are confronting death’s door in a show of solidarity: facing it together and accepting it unblinkingly.

Everything Is Always concludes with the warm, simple, hopeful title track. Reyes sings the song’s title repeatedly as a mantra, while Kohl’s strings envelop the listener and Shiroishi’s saxophone provides an appropriate reminder of music’s beautiful strength and power. For all its confrontations with death, the album is structured within a very traditional conceptual framework. Reyes and his collaborators band together to face mortality – not unafraid, but willingly and openly. This album is not always an easy listen, but as a guide to approaching and dealing with fear, it’s absolutely brilliant and endlessly engaging. “While abating fear is a continual process,” the liner notes state, “Everything Is Always is a
mark in the sand.”

RATING 9 / 10