Peaceful, calm, tense, perfect. Just a few words that came to mind while I was driving home today listening to Designed for Reading. I found myself being greeted by the perfect soundtrack for my drive home. The clouds were rolling by, a flag whipped in the wind and a flock of birds fluttered overhead as “Synthetic Memories” played on my stereo. In the midst of the traffic near the mall during “that time of year”, I found that the music evoked the nature around me, bringing it into brilliant focus and subverting the cars and business that surrounded my car. This album is filled with these sorts of moments and the musical landscapes it brings to the listener are at times serine and at others filled with tension. I must mention that this project is the child of Herb Grimaud Jr who hails from California. A labor of love and self-released, this disc does not disappoint either in the grandness and scope of the music nor in its professional quality. Also, this album is not just the music itself, but the artwork really brings this disc together. It’s cover is beautiful and the layout is perfect for this project.
“The Silent Ghost of Regret” is a grand opening to this disc. Leslie DuPre-Grimaud lends incredibly haunting yet beautiful vocals to this track. The mood communicated in this song is desperate, aching, and reaching. It pulses like an ever-impending tragedy waiting to happen. “Opnieuw” triggers a transition from the introduction to “the body of the work” by having DuPre-Grimaud‘s vocals appear over fuzzed out drones in a brief 1:47 song. With the dawning of “Replicant”, new hope seems to be in the air. A soft drone begins the track, bringing both relaxation and elegance to the listener. Sarah Hepburn provides breathy vocals while Eric Campuzano lends his expertise with shadowy guitars. The mood of the track is haunting and breathy. Deep within the mix are clicks and bleeps that remind me of the breathing of an artificial diaphragm. On the heals of “Replicant,” Leslie DuPre-Grimaud lends her ghost-like voice to “Red Mosaic.” Here, the listener gets a treat to Grimaud‘s bass work, which is subtle and adds depth to this track. It is wistful and soothing throughout.
“Floating Through the Fields” reminds me of sounds bouncing down a concrete hall with electronic particles buzzing by one’s ear mixed with ambient keys. Although that sounds a bit crude, the mixture of noises is actually quite brilliant. This track is a stunning piece of ambient work with layers of texture that really make it stand out. “Alice in December” is the longest track on the album. This is probably the most drone type song on the disc. It starts with a fuzzy drone and guitars, spoken word and synth sounds swirl around it and layer and fade and layer once again. Pings and screeches are brought to bear on the swirling drone, which loses its fuzz every once and a while. What’s really interesting about this song is that a melody breaks in about 7 minutes into the song along with beautiful vocals from Jan Johansen and Sarah Hepburn. “Snow is fallen forever now/I’m feeling your words somehow/now that your gone” croon Johansen and Hepburn. The coldness of longing for a missed one is really beautifully communicated both by the lyrics and the piano accompaniment. The storm communicated in the prior 7 minutes of the song with music really comes to a fantastic conclusion with the vocals.
With a bit of melancholy feel to the previous song, “Wanting More” establishes that feeling with lush soundscapes. Here, a tension is made between that lost one and the sample used in the song. The sample at the beginning of the song seems angry, communicating that process of working through loss. “Synthetic Memories,” on the other hand, recalls all that is left when someone leaves: one’s recollection of a lost one. It is in the midst of this song that I found clarity driving home, and I can’t help but feel that Grimaud finds it here as well. Peace floods over the listener through powerfully calm synth. Track 9, “The Web outside Her Window,” begins once again with a fuzzy drone and adds dissonant sounds. About 2 minutes into the song, the beating toms break in and add a tribal feel. This gives way to smoother soundscapes, which remind me of cold, crisp nights with the full moon lighting my way. Also, throughout the album, I can’t help being reminded of certain types of emotions and, at the same time, beautiful and desolate landscapes. Feedback fills the back end of “Web” and fills the airwaves with a sort of ambulance siren, depicting urgency. It is both haunting and grating as the toms once again add depth to the song. Driving bass really fills out the sound as the drums become more chaotic over the drones.
“Origami” opens with what sounds like a vast intersection on a street. Echoing noises and beautiful flute type sounds echo in the musical landscapes created by Grimaud. The sounds of this track envelop the listener with swirling movement. “Coil” is a track that has more of a melodic structure than most of the previous songs. There are spoken words mixed into drum loops, e-bow, and very subtle bass lines. The layering on this track is exquisite and really makes for both tension and solidarity between the sounds. It finishes with the dreadful sample “time to die.” This being presented to the listener, “1956-1980” begins. Grimaud provides great vox on this track, with a powerfully full song that is raw and energetic. Most of all, this track feels like a more structured song. Grimaud sings “now you’re gonna to sing for me young man/now you’re gonna sing.” The death about to occur in the previous track seems to be met with triumphal savagery and a resilience not to give into the despair of mortality. “Sing” follows on the heels of “1956-1980”, and DuPre-Grimaud‘s haunting voice returns asking, “are you going to sing?” Her vocals are beyond compare and urge the listener to participate in the triumph found in the previous track. Her voice is angelic and breath-taking and closes the album out with grand finesse.
This disc is, perhaps, the best disc of the year along with Bark Psychosis: Codename Dustsucker. Designed for Reading is lush, beautiful, full of emotion, and, frankly, brilliant. I have put this disc at the top of my highly recommended list and hope that the world is lucky enough to hear The Sound Gallery.