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In the Japanese language, there is a word to describe the particular kind of light that comes through foliage: komorebi. That we experience light in varying degrees and through different filters is a given, but it’s interesting how we often don’t pause to consider these variations. Quilt’s sophomore album, Held in Splendor, functions similarly as this untranslatable word, tapping into the knowledges and emotions that exist between the larger polarities of our day-to-day lives. The thirteen tracks within the album bask in varying shadows of sun and resonate with spiritual curiosity.
Last spring, members Anna Fox Rochinski, Shane Butler and John Andrews (who reside in Massachusetts) found themselves shedding off the winter in a Brooklyn studio. The album, in part, does reflect the melting snow of a tumultuous winter giving way to fresh greenery. The first song, “Arctic Shark,” opens quietly with gentle plucks of acoustic folk as Fox’s voice comes in with a question: “How can I proceed with ease?” The following words continue with this sentiment – one of the careful self-awareness needed during times of transition. Fox’s words imply new beginnings; she sings, “Newborn forms are weightless like dust / Everything will regenerate as it was… Mourning how a frozen thing can thaw and turn to brine.”
The act of questioning isn’t always a means to an end; often the process in and of itself is of equal value. Held in Splendor asks many questions, but it seems more invested in a breath of discovery, and is humble in making light of confusing times. In “Tie Up the Tide,” Fox wonders, “What can I give? What can I hold?” Only to arrive at, “So I live by candlelight and darn if I know.” From this, one can gather not resignation, but a meditative peace, almost lulling.
The vocals throughout the album rest closely at the forefront and work together in most of the tracks, singing jointly throughout the choruses or switching back-and-forth. It’s refreshing to find that as a very psychedelic-inspired album, the vocals bare only a light dose of reverb to keep the tracks from over-saturation. In particular, Fox’s voice is warm. Its concrete and consistent tone add real dimension to the songs on which she leads. Her vocals recall a variety of ingredients, some of which might include Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek, the anomalous Frida Hyvönen, and even Heart’s Ann Wilson.
At their most radiant centers, songs such as “Saturday Bride,” “A Mirror,” and “Tired & Buttered” really bring Held in Splendor together. Specifically, the song “Mary Mountain” highlights Quilt’s qualities as a unified whole. This song succeeds in its compositional ambition as it manages to maintain a vibrant energy in both its highly charged parts and slower-tempo respites. The arrangements reflect an organic collaboration between instruments – the sounds fold into each other yet avoid becoming crowded layers. Each member’s instrumental contributions shine here. “Mary Mountain” opens with guitar arpeggiating a melody in the veins of Ennio Moriconne mixed with Dick Dale. And as the snare thumps in, you feel a pace beneath your feet bouncing you along as the chorus sings, “forever chase a glow with sun imbued…” The end of this song is particularly special, it becomes more and more atmospheric as it comes to a close. The shifts between guitar chords can be heard within subtle slap-back reverb and a couplet of piano notes sparsely climbing up and down scale; a glissando of other keys glide throughout.
Quilt’s Held in Splendor is a smooth palm extending into a thawing dream. With it’s stealthy dose of punctuated tom fills, fuzz guitar solos, and even a bit of saxophone (that surprisingly drops in on “The World is Flat”) Held in Splendor doesn’t fix its eyes on the sun, but it’s not staring into the night, either - it has found an unfamiliar shade in which to stay warm.