Space is fundamental. As a student living far from home, this is something I realize more and more. Location — which defines who and what we are surrounded by — changes the way we think, how we interact with our surroundings, and as a result the nature of the things we create. With this in mind, I found it especially interesting to discover that Almonds, Cohen’s recent album Ceiling Once, Ltd., released in July 2015, was recorded intermittently over four years in three different cities and in seven different recording spaces.
The album, composed of 12 songs written by Brock Edwards and played by many skilled musicians, is a pleasant listen. Edwards’ skill on acoustic guitar is a definite stand-out. The combination of his acoustic playing and soothing vocals creates a Sufjan Stevens vibe on many tracks, though not all. Some sound more Mac Demarco, while others have clear jazz influences. Considering the range of time and location over which the album was recorded, this lack of concerted direction is understandable.
In his song composition Edwards tends to begin with a musical motif, repeating it throughout the songs while adding complexity and further instrumentation to the initial ideas. While this strategy can create a coherent song that grows, fades, and morphs into something new — as on “Angular Momentum I (Galileo)” — it can also result in repetitive, overly-long songs. For example, in “New Decade” the song seems to be drawing to a close around the four-minute mark, but continues for another two minutes without much development. By the end, the phrase “feels just like a new decade” ironically feels old and worn-out.
Edwards’ strategy is most successful on tracks such as “I’ll Drive” and “Under the Net,” where the motif is less sonically prominent and has a clearer direction. The songs move forward and come to a close without feeling drawn-out. On “Under the Net,” the sound builds with Emma Postl’s vocals and John Nicholson’s sax solo, and fades with ambient noise and the sax line carrying over alone, slowing to a close at the end of the song.
While Ceiling Once, Ltd. may lack some coherence and direction within and between songs, perhaps this reflects what Almonds, Cohen is trying to say. As Postl sings in “Quantum Summer,” “No nearer to knowing / Where all this is going.”