Review Summary: Beauty awakens from deep within the Earth.Book of Romance and Dust
is a very earthly record. What I mean by that is everything feels organic; the baritone vocals echo as if sung between the Alps’ snow-capped mountains, the pianos have an oceanic glisten, and the drums pound like boots landing upon the barren grounds of a desert. It’s an album that instills such imagery and injects it with emotion, as strings flourish and trumpets add a majestic flair. This Thomas Feiner/Ulf Jansson/Steve Jansen/David Sylvian collaboration sweeps the imagination and rattles the bone, a primitive and dazzling debut for Exit North.
The vast majority of Book of Romance and Dust
is graceful and effervescent, slowly gliding towards moments of elevated grandeur. There are mini-crescendos such as when ‘Bested Bones’ cautiously rises to a gorgeous entanglement of piano and violin, but the songs also balance each other out on a macro scale. The plodding pace of the first three tracks, for instance, sets up the comparatively bustling energy exuded by ‘Passenger’s Wake’ – from the album’s first truly memorable chorus to the buzzing electric guitar riff sounding off from somewhere in the distance. There’s an ebb and flow to the whole experience that contains little melodic swells, as well as rare but larger payoffs that feel earned once the destination is reached.
The mood in this realm, crafted to meticulous detail by Feiner & co., is icily reflective yet engaging. The lyrics avoid tangible narratives, instead opting for wistful pleas (“give me another chance to listen, to hear the world…the void, the sound it makes”) and self-doubt (“here’s a man searching for context for his lost geometries, always short of one dimension”). There are occasional forays into what could be considered a silver lining, such as when Feiner sings, “I’ll wait for my sunrise…I’ll break the doors open, take what I came for and then go.” Even then, however, the melody is tinged with remorse as Feiner wails atop defeated violins until he sounds lost in hesitation and uncertainty. Book of Romance and Dust
represents quite the forlorn journey – it’s a meandering tale of regret, the ruminations of a man who’s let too much of his life pass him by.
Yet, the music stands in beautiful contrast to Feiner’s weathered-sounding vocals. The combination of pianos, synthesizers, trumpets, and strings creates a wholly dynamic approach that alternates between beautiful wintry ambience and proximal, comforting warmth. It flows with elegance, occasionally aspiring to inimitable levels of raw beauty. The musical progression of Book of Romance and Dust
is analogous to waiting through a dense, foggy morning until the sun finally breaks through, casting its light upon the frost-bitten landscape. It's downright breathtaking.
Exit North captures an illustrious blend of natural elements and human emotion in this recording. It’s all at once powerful and refined, using bare-bones instruments to achieve a poignant and cerebral atmosphere. It’s the kind of album that could soundtrack any lonely, cold winter night. Book of Romance and Dust
is a piece that dwells almost uniformly in hopelessness, but that also draws inspiration from the surrounding natural world to pull itself back into the light.