Sarah Louise Offers 'Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars'

Photo courtesy of Thrill Jockey

Sarah Louise evokes the natural landscapes of meadows, ponds and woods. She connects the spiritual and the material in creative ways that suggest there is more out there than one can understand through thought alone.

Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars
Sarah Louise

Thrill Jockey

25 January 2019

Sarah Louise directly describes the instrumental parameters of the music on her latest album, Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars, in the liner notes. She wrote, "all compositions are made entirely of live and electronically manipulated six-string electric guitar in standard tuning." Louise also added the sounds of frogs and birds, and a smidge of synth and voices. The sounds on the disc would be difficult to identify without her explanation. In a mostly quiet way, Louise combines layers of squeaky noises, choir-like drones, and mantra-length rhythms into spiritual cadences with spiritual affinities. It is cosmic in every sense of the word.

Louise also wrote in the liner notes that this album was "made in devotion to the divine earth" and that she offers this "in the hopes that some healing energy has made it into the music" so that "insights pass from your conscious mind so that your body can learn them". The song titles often have mystical connotations ("Daybreak", "R Mountain", "Rime", and "Ancient Intelligence"). Louise created her music as a form of meditation, but one need not be a believer in her philosophy and more than one has to be a Christian to appreciate Arvo Part or a Buddhist to like John Coltrane even though religious revelation is key to their music.

Considering this album is guitar-based, there is very little strumming. The one big exception is "Swarming at the Threshold" in which Louise plucks and plunks in quick thrums over a low drone that keeps getting louder to suggest that everything is coming together. Then Louise stops strumming and it is just the drone. This has a physical effect on the listener's body. Going from a patterned chaos and noise into quiet and simplicity has a physiological impact—what Louise referred to as insights your body can learn.

These are experimental compositions. Some of these tracks seem incomplete. The avant-garde nature of the way the sonic materials are used may be intellectually interesting but ultimately not rewarding to hear. In this sense they resemble what can be called "museum music"—a sort of coffee table approach to performance. The thought-provoking nature of what is being made, how, and why offer appeal just like that big tome of photographs and reproductions by a talented practitioner may make one turn the page and admire what's seen but still leave one cold: whereas coming face to face with the actual thing leaves a much more profound impression.

Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars shows Louise is not afraid to take risks. While the songs vary sonically in many different ways, they are connected by the way Louise approaches her compositions. They have a distinctive personality and bear her stamp. And even though the music is electronically created, it has an organic core. Louise evokes the natural landscapes of meadows, ponds and woods. She connects the spiritual and the material in creative ways that suggest there is more out there than one can understand through thought alone. One doesn't have to agree with her to enjoy her cosmic explorations.







A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.


Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.


Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.


HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.


Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.


Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.


'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.


Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.


DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.


JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.


​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.


Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times


Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.


How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.


Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.