On his last release, What We Left Behind, Robert Rich took his listeners into a vivid post-population world where nature had reclaimed its domain. He follows that with the equally haunted and gorgeous landscapes of Vestiges, an album that fuses shadowy overtones with the breath of hope. Rich has told me that this is a very personal piece, focused in part on a growing awareness of mortality. Thus, it’s beautiful and sad–and, as is always the case with Rich’s work, it is also a deeply dimensional, fully realized environment that hits the listener at a visceral level with its mental imagery. The album enters on slow bass notes, the stretching yawn of slide guitar, and the sound of someone moving through the space on “The Fading Shore of Memory.” Rich wastes no time in layering up his sounds, and we’re easily carried into “Night Seas Luminesce,” which introduces piano to the mix. Its lonely notes pick their way through the foggy washes around it, a kind of dreamy meandering. Those dreams darken through the heaviness of “Spectre of Lost Light,” with Rich raising a wall of grim and steady drones. It’s a point of passage, and from there the album turns a touch quieter. Piano reappears on “Obscured by Leaf Shadows,” brighter and more confident against a backdrop of high, singing pads and the organic crackle of analog-synth skitterings. From here, each time I have listened, I have simply drifted away and lost time. The soft-but-eerie “Equipoise and Dissolution” brings in Rich’s flute, which is always a highlight for me. It’s set against a backing of field recordings featuring voices. Placed far back as they are, they become something that falls between watching the scene remotely or seeing a memory play out in your mind’s eye. Wind-blown chimes float in to heighten the piece’s dark beauty. “Reborn in Brackish Pools” hits its theme with watery gurgles and pads that rise and morph, spreading slowly across the piece’s surface. Your breathing will slow while this plays out. Piano leads the closing piece, “Anchorless on Quiet Tide,” thoughtful and melancholy. Overall, the presence of the piano pulls Vestiges’ through-line forward, its voice more definitive than the ambient elements around it. It is the coalescence of our thoughts as we wander through these landscapes, our tie back to solidity. Rich places it perfectly throughout the album, marking passage and bringing us back toward the surface.
Vestiges is a stunning album, as deep as it can be soft, as hopeful as it can be grim. It is almost instantly immersive, and holds its listener firmly–and gladly–within its world for its whole run. Headphone listening is imperative to take in all of Rich’s typically exquisite detail work. It has narrative, it has imagery, it has emotional impact. I cannot get enough of this album and the way it affects me. Masterful.
Available at Bandcamp.