On his latest album Sir Richard Bishop moves forward and backward simultaneously. The record slips away from the yoke of organic string sounds that have grounded Bishop throughout his career – roping in electronic pathways, less organic textures, and a trend towards the avant over the ethereal. It’s as forward moving and adventurous as anything you’d expect from an artist rooted in the winking world textures and chaotic burn of Sun City Girls. Yet it’s also an ambitious experiment from an artist comfortable enough in his own skin that he’s able to balance virtuosity with curiosity. The record gazes backward in its patchwork approach by becoming a sort of sister album to his excellent aughts installment Polytheistic Fragments. Like that album the tone shifts from track to track, along with the instrumentation, but the overall feeling is one of becoming a soundtrack to some unseen film. The songs are vignettes that drip with sadness, sanguine solitude, and anxious intrigue. The themes have long threaded themselves through Bishop’s work, but he ties the knots particularly well between the pieces here while keeping up his approach of utilizing different instrumentation for each track.
The latter angle doesn’t become a gimmick but rather a conduit to bring out new shadows and shades in the unseen history of Oneiric Formulary. Where before he’d simply switch the tone and tumble of his fingered phrasing, now he lets the caustic gnaw of electronics creep into the mix. His labelmate and contemporary Ben Chasny has done something similar on his latest for DC as well, but Chasny makes synths feel like they were always in the DNA of his songs. Bishop makes it clear that they’ve come to corrupt. This becomes particularly clear on “Graveyard Wanderers”, a scraping, hulking beast of a track that’s without any of Bishop’s typical fluidity, instead hounding the midsection of the album with an overbearing dread. Not to be outdone, he follows the itch of electronics with a bagpipe dirge that churns the dread in yet another way before letting the languid stringwork and zonked electric slides return. Any follower of Bishop through the years knows that abrasive is in his oeuvre and he lets it linger here alongside some of his most accomplished runs and lyrical picking. This far on, Bishop is still looking to stir the pot and succeeding nicely.
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