Cinders Ensemble is Brian Purington (guitar), Kirk Laktas (keys), and James Alexander (viola). All of the members are also in the post-rock band My Education and, here, play stripped-down cinematic music. Earl Bowers from My Education guests as a drummer when the ensemble feels it is needed. They hail from Austin, Texas and were formed by Laktas and Alexander in 1998. Eventually, Purington came on board and the trio has been playing live for some time. Lonely Eskimo is nine tracks of emotive hills and valleys. It is expressive, patient, and genre bending.
The album starts with “Whatever is My Blood” and it opens with pensive piano work by Laktas. Sara Nelson (Tosca) guests on “Whatever is My Blood” playing the Cello. The cello work provides a warm, deep tone that ads to the melancholy nature of the track. Alexander’s viola work is expectantly exceptional and just incredibly beautiful to the ears. Purington adds acoustic guitar to the mix as the whole of the group comes up in the speakers. It’s a gorgeous opener to the album and really introduces the listener to the arranging power of the group. “Petey Goodbye” has galloping guitar with swelling viola and staccato piano. Bowers brings in percussion to enhance the almost urgent feel of the piece. Around 3:00, the band slows and quiet spaces open with swelling tones and Purington’s wailing guitar. Laktas accents the soundscape with thoughtful keys. Then, the piano rings out once more to bring the track to a close.
“Lonely Eskimo”, the titular piece, has full drums and this wonderful, weeping viola line as a hook. Humming, sparkly sound weeps underneath. Eventually, a gritty guitar elevates above the quieter moments. These are those peaks and valley moments I spoke of above. Cinders Ensemble is brilliant at pacing, noise control, and placement of movement. Purington plays bass on “Lonely Eskimo”, which takes center stage playing a prominent line throughout. “Assimilitude” is another somber piece. Laktas’ piano work creates the glue at the center of the piece while Purington and Alexander float about the melody, enhancing it, and creating depth and texture as the song moves forward. For me, it evokes literary works like those of Leo Tolstoy. Purinton’s use of tones here enhance the overall somberness of the piece.
“Port, She Said” begins with a wonderful piano piece which reminds me of a sophisticated traditional song from old Eastern Europe. The viola plays this gorgeous counter melody and then they join in together as one. Purington plays acoustic guitar to giving “Port, She Said” a wonderful flavor. “Sent Spinning” has a cascading piano line with pensive viola playing overtop. The cascading piano stops and begins to sound ragged with viola weeping overtop. Again, the guitar adds these wonderful accents that enhance the overall feel. It’s one of the longer compositions on the disc and it’s also one of their best in terms of patience, playing with textures, and altering and playing with the melodies. “Saguaro” begins with a deep, spoken voice and then moves into bass and drum work with droning guitars. There are spoken word moments throughout the track. “Saguaro” has this wonderful electronic feel to it, in form and sound, but done with organic instruments. Eventually, the percussion fades and the piano takes over with drones sitting on top and drawn out notes on the viola. The spoken word sections speak of Papa Legba, a loa in Haitian Vodou. The piece creates an almost ritualized context as it speaks of Papa Legba’s intervention with the spirit world.
“Rosy Siege” sees guitar take point as it begins with piano and viola eventually producing a melody on top. The guitar soars here as it cries out in conversation with the other musical lines. It’s both intimate and contemplative. Soft and agile, its movements express a longing. “Rosy Siege” gets another version as the finale to the album in the “Benoît Pioulard Version”. It’s a drone piece that stretches out the original melodies and sounds into a beautiful, meditative soundscape. The track fades into silence as the warbling rumbles disappear. It’s a poignant piece on which to end the record.
Cinders Ensemble has produced a wonderful set of emotive, expressive, and deftly composed pieces. The album as a whole is incredibly cohesive and quite beautiful in its execution. Purington, Laktas, Alexander, and company prove to be consummate arrangers, musicians, and sonic storytellers. Lonely Eskimo is a masterclass in cinematic, instrumental music and I highly recommend picking it up!