by Todd Manning
Photo: Antoine Lutens
Jessica Moss is a composer and violinist based in Montreal, and she is preparing to release her Constellation Records debut Pools of Light on May 5. (Get it from Amazon.) Perhaps best known for her work with Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, Pools of Light sees her working solo, using her talents with both electronics and extended techniques to create a lush and enthralling listening experience.
Pools of Light consists of two pieces, each made up of four movements. The first, “Entire Populations,” begins with a dark but beautiful melody played on the violin. The first thing that becomes apparent is that, whether on purpose or due to limited resources, the sound here is a bit gritty. This gives the music the feel of a D.I.Y. classical approach and it benefits greatly from retaining the rough edges. The folkish melody is slowly built up, layer by layer, utilizing multi-tracked violin. In the second movement, the same melody is picked up by melancholic vocals, once again built up slowly with multi-tracking. This crescendos with some of the later vocal tracks, the melody being supplemented with an almost yelling performance.
The third movement begins by adding more emphasis to the electronics and then shifts back towards the violin in its less effects-laden permutation, while the fourth becomes more sparse. The piece ends with a whimper, desolate and cold; one imagines “Entire Populations” which no longer exist. While it is not stated explicitly, this can be conceived of as an elegy for a disaster already in progress.
The second piece, “Glaciers,” is split into “Glaciers I” and “Glaciers II,” with each of those consisting of two tracks. While certainly spiritually akin to “Entire Populations,” here the melodic elements take a back seat to sound design. Whether in the throes of electronics or layered strings, the listener is thrust into barren dark ambience. When melodies do emerge, they are somewhat reminiscent of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, yet stripped of their grandiosity and rock-like mood.
In keeping with this punkish approach to classical, Jessica Moss occupies a similar headspace to groups like Neurosis, particularly at their most subdued, for example on the album A Sun That Never Sets. At times, her music even sounds like the intro sections to that band’s songs, but the anticipated crushing guitar riffs never appear. Instead, the listener is allowed to bathe in the starkness of this seemingly post-apocalyptic music. Pools of Light seems to linger in the fires left behind after a great explosion.
Jessica Moss’s time as a solo musician has come. Whether playing gorgeous melodies which reflect on her experience with the Black Ox Orkestar, or sounding like she raided a guitarist’s effects pedal board for more toys to play with, she has constructed a fabulous album that is deceptively lush given her solo modus operandi. And while modern classical seems to be on the upswing recently in certain forward-thinking rock circles, her grittier aesthetic sets her apart from the pack. Pools of Light is constructed with the format of a vinyl LP in mind, and it certainly works best absorbed as a whole, in one sitting. This isn’t background music; please feel free to let it dominate your attention from start to finish.
Stream “Glaciers I (Part I)”: