Birds of Passage: This Kindly Slumber (Denovali)
Alicia Merz’s third album as Birds of Passage is haunting and ghostly, much like her faint voice murmuring through a wall of effects. It’s difficult to not make comparisons to Liz Harris’s project Grouper, another stark solo project that skirts the line between songwriting and ambient drones. Rather than shoegazing, instead it’s more like the aftermath of that feedback and swirl of sound, diminishing returns of reverb with a stark, intimate, human touch. “Ashes to Ashes” is a gorgeous prelude, but it’s with “Belle du Jour” that Merz’s gloom rises to the foreground more overtly. That graceful combination of fragility and melancholy characterizes most of This Kindly Slumber, from the stark, concise songwriting of “And All of Your Dreams” to the more sprawling ephemera of closing beauty “Lonesome Tame.”
I find Merz’s songs to be at their most effective when she allows them to just decay freely, delicate drones of voice, guitar, and synths reverberating indefinitely in some cases. That she allows her voice to often come through clear enough to understand her vocals is a nice bonus, although I find myself lost in the overall sound more than focused on her lyrics. Highly recommended for fans of Grouper and Kranky (Labradford, Windy & Carl).