Steven R. Smith shines yet again under the Ulaan Passerine moniker. Having recorded under several aliases over the years (Hala Strana, Ulaan Khol, Ulaan Markhor) Ulaan Passerine is typically his most devastating and doom-laden handle. This time he cracks the sky and brings more rain over two tracks of somber guitar and anxious strings. The first side, “Evening,” embodies the slow slip of the sun below the horizon, though in Smith’s world it seems that the orange and red hues of late summer are always to be replaced with an overcast pall of barren early winter. Its hard not to hear the wind through the trees and pick up a pang of dread when the mid-section starts clanging. There’s always been something cinematic to Ulaan Passerine and a sense of pursuit is driven through the fibers of this track. Whether that pursuit is human or just nature catching up and gnawing at the bones of the listener, it remains to be seen.
The track, in contrast to some other works under this name, resolves into some sort of calm – a peaceful moment that shows a side of Smith that’s all too often hidden. His works are so typically fraught that its nice to hear his playing used to calm and heal rather than to spike the flight or fight response. But, present as ever, the darkness returns as we ease into side two’s “Dawning.” The feeling here is less fear and more resolve, a trek bourn out of duty with a heavy yoke of obligation tugging on the soul as it opens. As the piece moves into its second movement (each side seems to be split into three movements) that feeling doesn’t ebb, it just seems that the subject of Smith’s composition has moved closer to certain death.
The track, like the first, also resolves into a sense of calm. Whether its victory or a well earned death that ends this piece, only Smith knows. How no one has picked him up as a composer of scores is beyond me, but this should act as a good resume for anyone looking to soundtrack a gritty Norwegian thriller. As much as I enjoy the tension, though, New Evening was welcome in its third movement focus on light and air. It’d be great to have a whole record that drops the dread and just basks in this amber hue. This is not that record though, tread lightly and listen deeply.
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