Album Review

Album Review: Barren Harvest – Subtle Cruelties

Posted by Morgan Ywain Evans on Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 10:30 PM (PST)
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Barren Harvest seem to know that life is gorgeous, cruel, short, boundless, fragile and yet hearty. Frailty and strength are often odd bedfellows.

I just found out a few hours ago that the mother of one of my very best friends has passed away, perhaps even from foul play.  Subtle Cruelties has been encapsulating my world since and is a fitting rumination on mortality. I spent a few hours lying around sad and listless, before realizing that my friend’s mother was a creative and positive soul who struggled but prized love and the arts. She was like my crazy aunt and would have wanted me to get back to writing and smile. Plus, it makes me feel better- to a degree. “Subtle Cruelties” is full of portions of the Tennyson epic “In Memorium”, so this album is certainly fitting for my sad state of mind.

Coming off like a marriage of the more ethereal side of Jarboe/Gira Swans with more synth and ambient leanings, Barren Harvest stun on this release.  A series of tracks called ‘Memoriam I’ up through the numeral “VI” are all poetic highlights of loneliness that fill the nerves in the unsettling yet comforting way Nine Inch Nail’s did on the womb-like “A Warm Place”. ‘

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Memoriam II” reminds me a bit of recent Chaostar, with a very theatrical approach. You feel like you are looking at a grieving widow’s back as she surveys a misty battlefield strewn with the dead, eyes peeled for a loved one. Just an impression, but this is powerful stuff. Lenny Smith (Atriarch) and Jessica Way (Worm Ouroboros) have made a record lush with promise and defeat, hope and loss. There is vast space and yet at times lack of air. Many contradictions dance like ghosts or embers amidst layers of synth, yearning guitars and autoharp. You can’t help but feel somber and like cold dew is forming on your skin. Bird song peppers the record with a light touch amidst dark musings.”Heaven’s Age” is a quiet little masterpiece near the center of this grand and yet humble work, coming off like a droning paean to what is beyond reach. The female/male vocal teamwork throughout this record is heart wrenching and epic. It reminds me of Masuji Ibuse’s famed 1965 novel Black Rain examining Hiroshima, a prevalent sense of loss where words barely suffice yet feeling is still vastly embodied in every carefully selected syllable.

Sarah Palin is delivering her idiotic Keynote Address at CPAC tonight. Science is being ignored as Polar Bears die off. We cling to presumptions of our importance but deny the soulful sides of us that give us any hope for lasting peace, let alone worth as a species. This record aches in ways that fill in the spaces between what you can bear to carry and what brings you to your knees. Time marches on.

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