Review Summary: O So Lo(vely)
Were the cynics here to listen, they’d proclaim O So Lo
a gimmick, a cheap and meaningless tactic employed in an attempt to evoke awe and a meta kind of intimacy. After all, every sound, every inflection, every idiosyncrasy that emanates from this record was borne from the same piano, culminating in the interplay of utmost purity and the occasional bout of heavy, boot-to-the-chest distortion. But this is, quite clearly, a record that pays little attention to the jaded listener. O So Lo
lives, murmurs, and dies in the same small room, shutting itself in as if an inch of rotting wood is enough to avoid a casualty.
Beholding (alias: Lukas Vanderlip) restructures this record so that the order of the day is deliberately and beautifully out of place. It’s a (somehow) self-perpetuating piece of music that paints a minimalist portrait of what it would be like to react to the future before it happens. In that regard, it’s very calm-before-the-storm, yet it predicates its atmosphere on the notion that the storm may stay forever teetering on the horizon. Formless
is a sagely “don’t be scared”
, sure, if placed before the crash and burn of Fleeting
, but if you decide it occurs in the aftermath, it’s more evidently a “we will find what it is you’ve lost”
Either way, it’s a search for clarity that defines this music. A barely-hidden poem accompanies this album, incised and woven into the make-up of each vignette. Much like the pieces themselves, I’m not sure there’s a definitive order to this poem; rather, I feel these words were always there, in that configuration, before the sounds even found their way from the hollow body of that old piano. Consider them lyrics, lamenting the absence of a clear path with equal parts frustration and resigned acceptance. Ergo, the dynamic is clear: the sounds we hear -- gentle, commiserating, selfless -- are an attempt to placate the neuroses evident in the ‘lyrics’, which we comprehend like we do a phantom limb. ”You are alone"
, the pithy literal accompaniment to the title track, is a sentiment succinctly (read: bluntly) put. But the piece itself tells me otherwise; it isn’t loneliness here, it’s tranquility -- a quietude heavy enough that you can hear the creak of the sustain pedal amidst the drizzle of warm melodic improvisations.
O So Lo
is the kind of album completed in sessions -- the kind of album ‘written’ and recorded in the exact same frame of mind. It’s no gimmick, then, because it exists in its first and only form and it will never, ever, come to us in the same way as it has just now. Though where other improvisation-based albums feel like flashes in the pan, lightning in a bottle, this one here is different; it seems… considered, against all odds, as though the concept existed as a mental blueprint long before it was ever performed. It has seen and accepted hardship but it’s remained collected and tender and unassuming regardless. Even its peculiarities, of which there are a surprising amount, feel congruous with the melodic resolutions: those that are felt as knots untangle and a vague sense of optimism creeps in amongst the confusion.
This is the improvised, neo-classical-cum-ambient record with the least surprises ever. We are wished good luck in navigating this record before we listen to it, but after listening, I don't think good fortune is necessary; O So Lo
provides the transparency it seeks, but it keeps searching for it anyway.