The thirteenth Autumn’s Grey Solace is a return to form. After a few albums that eschewed words and flirted with post-rock, the new album (simply called XIII) is firmly in the ethereal shoegaze mold, with lyrics and recognizable song structures. As a result, singer Erin Welton’s high-pitched, almost classical vocal acrobatics take center stage. The otherworldly melodies she sings are more about the coloratura origami she shapes than straight forward narrative communication, but the songs are full of emotion. Elizabeth Fraser/Cocteau Twins are a referent but AGS has developed its own unique take on the fragile formula. XIII is a wistful, blissful album and a great introduction to their prolific almost 20 year career.
“Starlings and Crows,” the new album by Chloë March, is an autumnal song cycle full of rich electronics, dark honeyed vocals and startling touches, like crystalline piano chord progressions and shimmering autoharp strums. It’s richly atmospheric, full of nature imagery and Romantic (with a capital R) reveries. Everything note played or sung is placed with jewel-like precision. It’s a song suite, but there are highlights, like the tentative piano ballad “All Things Good” or the cinematic blur of “To a Place,” and “Remember That Sky” could be an Adult Alternative single. It reminds one of the misty electronic pastorals of Virginia Astley’s “Hope in a Darkened Heart,” though March has a plaintive alto compared to Astley’s boy soprano tones. Other references: “The Sensual World,” by Kate Bush, “Secrets of the Beehive” by David Sylvian or the 4AD era of folk singer Heidi Berry.
The duo Autumn’s Grey Solace has been staggeringly prolific. Since their debut in 2000, they have gradually moved away from their gothic pop roots, creating ambient music with traditional rock instruments. Their eleventh albumEocene is a tapestry of echoey treated guitars, heartbeat-like rhythms and ghostly voices. Instrumentalist Scott Ferrell uses a variety of techniques in layering stringed sounds—sustained notes that sound like bells, chimed, and harps. Singer Erin Welton uses her voice like a lead instrument, and whatever lyrics she sings are tumbled into the epic wall of sound, crafting a kind of sonic palimpsest. While the 38 minute digital album works as a whole, like a song suite, there are still individual songs that standout. The lovely melodic “Deep Wild” could almost be a single, as could the dark, driving “Extinction,” which flirts with progressive metal. Too tranquil to be “just” shoe-gaze pop, too dark to be New Age, this atmospheric mini-album has the perfect balance of tension and delicacy, like a spiderweb resiliently holding its shape beneath an onslaught of rain.
There’s a song on Autumn’s Grey Solace’s new digital mini-LP (or long EP) called “aelfsciene”, which means “fairy-bright’ in Anglo-Saxon (aka Old English). ‘Fairy bright’ is an apt description for these glittering compositions. Singer Erin Welton’s sweet airy soprano and complex, ethereal melodies are indeed, otherworldly. She’s drifted to a more glossolalia (speaking-in-tongues) style favored by Elizabeth Fraser and Lisa Gerrard; the lyrics themselves might as well be in Old English, since the song titles are all in that language. The music, created by Scott Ferrell, is built up of various guitar textures that form a kind of aural trompe l’oeil. Guitars mimic drones, sighs, pianos, cellos, and harps, held together with gentle rhythms. It’s ambient music using standard rock instrumentation. “Monajjfyllen” is the brighter companion piece to their earlier, and darker post rock album, “Eifelian.”