Listening to work by Joe Frawley is not an exercise in personal comfort. There’s a sense of being complicit in some sort of emotional voyeurism as you’re lead into his world of found sound, vocal samples, re-read bits of dialogue and sonically magnified moments of breath. Frawley’s work is a brilliantly jump-cut mix of all these things, set above simple piano melodies that absolutely drip with a varnish of melancholy. Frawley creates spaces that are just on the shadowy side of dark and just over the line of minimalism.
Speak of This to No One and Carnival are similar in approach, yet different in atmosphere. Speak… leans toward a dreamier quality with hints of unpleasant subconscious thoughts mistily floating around the edges. There is, like most of Frawley’s work, a very slight erotic/intimate edge in places, beginning with a voice at the outset of “The Kiss” quietly intoning, “So soft, so sweet.” Amplified moments of breath take on an edge-of-orgasm feel; it’s an interesting thing to hear that in your head and to get that image while at the same time realizing it may just be a breath or a shiver of cold. (“Mirrors” will mess with you this way.) This is where that level of discomfort comes in, as you’re asked to be perhaps closer to the moment than you should, hearing things you shouldn’t, and yet you know you’re not going anywhere. Also of note here is the simple beauty of “Avenue of the Secret Fur,” where Frawley’s piano walks a lonely path through understated backdrop sounds.
Carnival feels like the darker of the two. A whispering French voice launches you into the whether-you-like-it-or-not intimacy with “Premonition I.” You feel the shadows falling right away. The breathing exercises start right after with “Skywriting/An Extremely Tiny Box” and Frawley piles on the sound sources. Plane sounds, fireworks, more voices… The peer-inside-someone’s-head feel ramps up at this stage and there’s no going back. The feeling of being wrapped in between-world shadow grows even stronger in “Premonition II” (there are III). Perhaps one of the strongest narrative tracks on the disc, it’s just downright creepy in spots–like the voice whispering “fire fire fire.” It feels like Frawley reveals the story of Carnival here as a girl’s voice that’s been heard talking–in clipped bites, of course–about going to a fortune teller has a chance to tell us what exactly the fortune teller said.
By design, Frawley keeps his works short–around 30 minutes. It’s a simple matter, then, to find time to make your way through his galleries. That is, if you can take spending some time in other people’s emotional shadows and you don’t mind being that voyeur.
Available at Joe Frawley Music.