In my past encounters with Joe Frawley, I have been taken to surreal, waking-dream places where altered vocal samples stand in for fragments of other peoples’ memories, where no sound is left well enough alone and exist only to be torn, chopped, and reconfigured as the musician sees fit. On How They Met Themselves, although the music in places retains that I had the weirdest dream feel, Frawley focuses more than usual on his role as contemporary composer rather than sound surgeon. Which is not to suggest he offers us a dish of vanilla this time. As ever, his penchant for quirky construction, complex interplay, and affecting beauty is in place. But the clean simplicity of the opening track, “Aubade,” does come as a bit of a surprise if you’ve listened to Frawley before. This solo piano piece is certainly as close as he’s ever come to a New Age sound. It took me a few listens to stop waiting for it to get the usual treatment. Now I just let its softness and story wash over me. He revisits this emotional space later on “The Ruins of April.” Edged with a hint of sadness, it is flecked with arpeggios that spatter like a light rain. As much as I enjoy my stranger Frawley pieces, the solo songs reveal a musician with an elegant, nuanced hand who needs nothing more than his instrument to tell a deep and involved story. There are, of course, places where things do get less straightforward. On the title track, piano and xylophone hold a dialogue, tumbling and tangling. The xylophone rolls and trills; the piano plods pleasantly forward. The mix is delightfully dizzying at times. With “Un Salon Fantôme” we smoothly shift into a dreamier territory…even if that dream is a little dark. Frawley takes the voice of frequent collaborator Michelle Cross and cuts it into slivers, which he then floats, appropriately ghost-like, across the scene. The piano gets dosed in reverb, and strange sounds slip through in the background. “What the Wind,” which follows, is softly haunted by the whispering of said wind, backward echoes, and long, quiet string draws. A standout track for me on this excellent album is “The Waxwork Heart.” With a blend of sounds, from strings to voice to piano to an unexpected roll of thunder, over a syncopated rhythm, it is charming and fanciful. Something in its central piano phrase puts me in mind of Jobim’s samba “Waters of March.”
Joe Frawley’s music has fascinated me since I first encountered it. He is a storyteller at heart, and his medium is normally a wonderful cut/paste/reimagine collage motif that’s powerful intimate and loaded with vision. On How They Met Themselves, we get a look at the foundational elements of his narrative sense, often in pristine, simple expressions. It’s a bit of an exercise in soul-baring, and it adds one more thick layer to my appreciation of this superb artist.
Available at Bandcamp.