Reviews Steve Von Till A Life Unto Itself

Steve Von Till

A Life Unto Itself

I had always found it amazing how both Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till were able to separate the different musical modes that defined. Obviously at the top of the pyramid, for both guys, stands Neurosis, being the focal point of the experimental mindset. But both Kelly and Von Till had other projects throughout the years that would allow them to dial down their experimental tendencies (just a touch.) For Kelly it was projects such as Blood & Time(and I am still hoping for more material by them) and then collaborations such as Shrinebuilder and Corrections House, while Von Till focused on Harvestman, whose three albums, Lashing the Rye, In A Dark Tongue and Trinity, are nothing less than tremendous.

But what both these guys do with their solo projects, is go even a step further, back to their roots and releasing what are essentially folk albums, and great ones at that. Von Till seemed to embrace that aspect a bit more than Kelly, releasing three albums that encompassed the acoustic folk genre as a whole. As The Crow Flies and If I Should Fall To The Field had great songs, with Von Till rasping voice guiding you through the darkness that secluded them. A Grave Is A Grim Horse was just on another level in terms of feeling, surpassing the previous works with its vibe and the demeanour of the songs. On the other hand Kelly would begin with the more experimental Spirit Bound Flesh which featured a still strong Neurosis mentality before taking a plunge and giving in to the folk mentality of The Wake. Von Till seems to be going the other way round with his newest solo album A Life Unto Itself starting to experiment further within the folk genre, but strangely enough never stepping too much outside of it.

What is so curious in the new album of Von Till is the switch between the different modes of folk music. At one time he can go into the more American notion of folk music, as he does in the opening song of the album, “In Your Wings.” Similarly, but in a more southern mindset he brings the title track forth, before trying a different approach. There are tracks that feature a smoother vibe, as is the case with the excellent “A Language of Blood,” where the notion of repetitive patterns is brought into perspective. Von Till makes excellent use of this feature of his music, especially with “Birch Bark Box,” which starts off as one of the sweeter moments and then having electric guitars start distorting the soundscapes of the song. But then there are a couple of parts which seem to be crossing over to a whole different territory. “Night of The Moon” feels like an interstellar travel for Von Till's folk music. The inclusion of the electric guitar, with some slow and more powerful strums brings the Neurosis factor to the surface. It is actually quite a curious case with some of the songs in this album; you get the notion that they could have been the building blocks for new Neurosis material. A similar offering is brought with the final song of the album, “Known But Not Named,” with the circling patterns still disorientating as the darker and obscure character of the songs creates a mystical veil around them.

The other aspect that seems to be different in Von Till's latest work is the manner in which the songs arrangements are developed. The inclusion of more musicians, including Eyvind Kang on viola, J. Kardong on pedal steel guitar and Pat Schowe on percussion seems to elevate the music of the album. Even though this is not the first time guest musicians appear in Von Till's solo albums, their contributions in this one is something else. The pedal steel in the title track and especially in the opening song creates some great underlying melodies, bringing with them an otherworldly vibe. On the other hand the manner in which the percussion and viola are brought in halfway through “A Language of Blood” gives a rich sonic texture on the music. Even slight changes, and simple inclusion of lead parts in “Birch Bark Box” adds more variation, while switches in sound and mood in “Chasing Ghosts” result in a mysterious and quite spooky end result.

Even the inclusion of effects is thought out in such a way as to compliment the music in the most suitable way. The delay effects on the acoustic guitar show how Von Till will craft the sound in order to achieve the most interesting possible results, something that also shows brilliantly in “Known But Not Named.” On the other hand “Night of The Moon” sees Von Till experimenting with synths, as they travel left and right on the panorama, giving more space to the moment at hand. And there are even cases when he goes as far as adding distortion to a song, as he does in the background of “Chasing Ghosts” making the song a touch more imposing and giving rise to a towering sonic representation.

The album is still built around Von Till's acoustic guitar, which establishes the main pillar that holds this record. Ranging from delicate melodies as is the case with the opening song and “Birch Bark Box” and the powerful strums in the title track, to the dissolving quality that it has among the effects in both “A Language of Blood” and “Night of The Moon.” At the same level you have this great voice giving you a glimpse into the mind of the performer. The emotional performance and the feeling that his voice is able to transmit is capable of transferring you far away from this earthly plane with unbelievable ease.

A Life Unto Itself shows what Von Till is capable of, even when he sets boundaries for himself. By trapping himself within the confinements of folk music he has been able to expand his vision to territories that did not seem possible.

8.0 / 10Spyros Stasis
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