The ever-evolving, constantly collaborating duo of Mamiffer – composed of core members Faith Coloccia and the always-busy Aaron Turner – strike a deep nerve on their newest LP The World Unseen. It’s a blend of piano-driven simplicity, almost poppy, that locks step with Coloccia’s heavily layered, evocative vocals, ambient swells of noise from both the analog and the digital realms, and an emotional arc that, to me at least, is centered on the idea of touching divinity through earthly means as a way to give meaning to the pain of the past. It is all at once a supremely ethereal and heavenly, yet intensely introspective, and it’s not at all afraid of confronting listeners with emotions of grief and longing. Simply, it’s one of the clearest artistic statements I’ve heard so far this year.
I’ll ashamedly confess that The World Unseen was my first exposure to the duo who, over the past nine years, have amassed a wide array of live recordings, splits, collaborations, and EPs that run the whole spectrum from deconstructed drone-doom to modern classical to sparse electro-acoustic ambient music. I’ll also be the first to admit that I’ve not had proper time to dig into the outfit’s previous works, so if you’re looking for a reliable reviewer to discuss the connection of The World Unseen to the previous works of Mamiffer, you’re out of luck here. What I can say, though, is that The World Unseen personifies the concept that the best art should speak to listeners on both the physical and spiritual level. The glorious thing about music is that it can equally celebrate the human and the divine while not being strictly anchored in either realm. From the opening gentle drones of “By the Light of My Body” to the tides of white noise that crest on the three-part centerpiece of “Domestication of the Ewe,” there’s a sense of sacredness here. It’s as if the cold beauty of The World Unseen is an untouched tundra, and the last thing you want to do as the listener is to spoil its virgin territory.
The World Unseen finds a nigh-impossible equilibrium of the plain and the ornate. On “13 Burning Stars” the near-liturgical phrasing of the lyrics is matched against a piano phrase that waltzes between a two-note run and sustained chords, and it’s only two verses in that Turner’s tremmed-out, jangly guitar drone adds its support as additional ambient layers swell in behind. A sub-bass synth slithers in to provide chordal structure, and just as unnoticed, a layer of wind-like noise ends it. Closing track “Parthenogenesis,” however, plunges into more deliberate electronic territory as its piano chords take a backseat to the pulsing wall of electronics and fuzzed-out bass synths; Coloccia’s voice is soaked in a sort of fading static effect, and the emotional effect of the song’s arc gives the impression of a person’s last words amidst labored breaths. There’s a staggering amount of closure in it, though, and what’s even more brilliant is the catharsis and emotional uplift when you’re listening to the album on repeat and “By the Light of My Body” kicks back in.
It’s arguably the 27-minute triptych of “Domestication of the Ewe,” however, that most clearly expresses the aim of the album to express in musical terms the bridge between the human and the divine. As layers of noise ebb and flow over washes of angelic voice harmonies, there is a sense of tension, almost conflict, between the different elements to take control of the momentum behind the piece. Underneath its pulsing, minimalist textures and windswept static, wisps of melody appear, bloom, and disappear within short bursts before finally resolving into a dense wall of harmonized voices in its final movement. To my untrained, not-versed-in-noise-or-ambient ears, I’m reminded of Tim Hecker’s work on Harmony in Ultraviolet and especially Ravedeath 1972 and Dropped Pianos.
Even though it’s an April release, The World Unseen oozes the type of atmosphere to make this a stellar midwinter listen. The best music, though, transcends seasons, and The World Unseen does exactly that. It strikes something deep within, as the best music does, and demands repeated, sustained listening. A necessary purchase, if you ask me.