Cape Snow – The Last of the Light
Burst & Bloom – 3 November 2017
As collaborations go, this one is inspired. Tiger Saw are slowcore stalwarts from Massachusetts whose stock in trade is a kind of glacial Americana-gothic. Imagine Low composing the soundtrack to a barn dance for the dead and you’d be getting close. Bree Scanlon is a singer based in London who happens to have a voice that mixes the quiet authority of Low’s Mimi Parker with the emotional depth of Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies. Their first album together as Cape Snow was created partly as an exercise in long-distance musical communication – Scanlon was based in Los Angeles at the time – and for their second the gap has grown even wider. There is now an ocean rather than a continental landmass separating Cape Snow’s two creative cores.
So it’s something of an ironic surprise to find that the first song on The Last Of The Light is an intimate hymn to closeness. Be Here sees a simple, almost elemental chord progression provide the backdrop for Scanlon’s smoky vocals, a seductive mixture of yearning and acceptance. But perhaps it is not a surprise at all, because if this album has a theme, then it is distance, and how that distance can be overcome by darkness, longing, imagination and most importantly music. The intimacy continues on Billie. ‘I’m just fine here without you,’ sings Scanlon, but it is a line delivered with a certain ambiguity.
Falling follows a similar template, songwriter Dylan Metrano’s minimal guitar licks and harmonica providing a human anchor in a darkly sweet, ethereal song, while on Forget The Clock Metrano’s subtle backing vocals and a sprinkling of evocative organ gives us the album’s most upbeat moment – although there is always kind of Lynchian darkness at work, here provided by the guitar squalls that infiltrate the comparative orderliness of the song.
Lightening fools us with a Mazzy Star-like jangle of tambourines before the lyrics fade into uncertainty tinged with hope. Morning Sun is shot through with slow, sleepy warmth. The organ glimmers while the lyrics – Scanlon sings of ‘our stories merging into one’ – belies the physical separation at the heart of the album’s creation. Someday is a bit of a departure, a delicate and powerful piano ballad. The nebulous shimmer returns for the two final songs, Troubadours and the beautiful Unwound with its ornate tracery of piano and guitar.
It is always tempting to describe music like this with the vocabulary of geology, of time beyond human conception, of the slowness of rock and ice. And indeed I have already fallen into that trap in this very review. But in a way, that line of thought misses the point. Cape Snow’s magnetism is as much in their humanity and warmth as in their stateliness and detachment; in fact, it is the tension between these two elements that give The Last Of The Light its immense and ambiguous appeal.
The Last of the Light is out now. Order it here: https://burstandbloom.bandcamp.com/album/the-last-of-the-light