'Pale Bloom' Is an Assertion of Sarah Davachi's Stature as a Composer
Sarah Davachi asserts herself as a composer rather than a mere ambient artist on these four ghostly tracks that comprise Pale Bloom.
31 May 2019
Much of Sarah Davachi's music could be called "ambient", but that's a nebulous term even some of its OGs, like Harold Budd, despise. Ambient is less a genre than a set of traits developed through convergent evolution. An artist who came out of the conservatory, an artist raised on dance clubs and chill-out rooms, and a reformed punk could all feasibly channel their influences into near-identical, droning, beat-free music if they stumble across the right mindset. Though Davachi shares more DNA with drone masters like Phill Niblock and Éliane Radigue than the Enos and Budds of the world, it didn't seem too much of a disservice to slap the term on her music. Pale Bloom, which tells us exactly where Davachi stands. Though it sounds great swirling around your head like leaves in a gust of wind, Pale Bloom is composer's music, precise and formidable.
The piano-centric record consists of four tracks: three "Perfumes" and the drone piece "If It Pleased Me to Appear to You Wrapped in This Drapery", which matches the length of the other three tracks by itself. This is not the kind of album where every piece is part of the whole; its four songs are islands in themselves, each showcasing something Davachi can do. "Perfumes 1" is all spidery piano melodies that resolve in odd and unexpected ways, her playing always returning to a portentous half-note plod on a single key. Halfway through, the back-masked ghost of the piece joins her unadorned instrument, and the two incarnations of the music—one corporeal, one weightless and otherworldly—sing an eerie duet together.
"Perfumes 2" is based on the same repeated single note as its predecessor. The difference is this time around, the voice of singer Fausto Dayap Daos appears, androgynous and ghostly, hovering at the margins of the piece. As on "Perfumes 1", the melody is doubled by more distant, processed layers of voice until we seem to be hearing a small choir, or perhaps one sad song echoing endlessly in space. At the dead center of the mix sits the piano, like the vessel from which these spirits spring.
"Perfumes 3" is dense and misty, all organ chords and light piano pinpricks. It's the shortest of the "Perfumes" tracks, and it feels like a breather before what comes next: the 21-minute "Drapery", which seems to be played on some type of bellows instrument. Davachi cites the soundtrack to Tarkovsky's Solaris as an inspiration for Pale Bloom, but "Drapery" more closely resembles the ancient pagan magic of the Third Ear Band's soundtrack to Roman Polanski's Macbeth. Davachi's influences from liturgical music, prominent on last year's excellent Gave in Rest, means her work has a way of sounding somehow greater than itself—as if it's conjuring a presence whose size and power dwarfs that of the actual music being played.
Usually, that's enough. The appeal of Pale Bloom, though, is as much in the way the notes move, resolve, and jostle against each other as in how they add up to a listenable whole. Pale Bloom might be alienating to ambient fans who aren't familiar with how classical music works and would prefer appreciation not stand in the way of simple pleasure. It's easy to enjoy, a little harder to lose yourself in. It's above all else an assertion of the Canadian's stature as a composer, a purveyor of serious music, rather than a piddly ambient artist. If that means we have to stand back a little more to get a good glimpse of her music, so be it.