Mind Over Mirrors
A1. “Restore & Slip” 6:45
A2. “Gravity Wake” 11:50
A3. “Glossolaliac” 3:34
B1. “Gray Clearer” 6:27
B2. “Splintering” 6:02
B3. “To the Edges” 4:54
B4. “600 Miles Around” 4:52
The new album by the ever-evolving project of Jaime Fennelly is his most ambitious and spellbinding set of roiling, meditative recordings to date, and the first to supplement his foundational arsenal of Indian pedal harmonium, analog synthesizers, and incantatory voices with a full ensemble, including Janet Beveridge Bean (Eleventh Dream Day), Jim Becker (Califone), Haley Fohr (Circuit des Yeux), and Jon Mueller (Death Blues). Undying Color braids folk and formal, praise and play, within its heady swells and troughs, invoking American vernacular musical traditions and pulsating avant-garde electronics alike. With prayerful patience and ceremonial gravity, it conjures and celebrates the cyclical rhythms of nature: tidal surges, human breathing, cicadas in the wilderness gloaming.
“The snow is melting into music.”
– John Muir (1938)
The Driftless region of Southwestern Wisconsin is a geological anomaly, a deeply carved riverine landscape untouched by glacial drift, its soil and topography remaining as a result entirely distinct from its surroundings. It was here, in a cabin on Red Clover Ranch, about twenty miles east of the Mississippi River, that Jaime Fennelly spent two solitary weeks spanning the winter solstice and the turning of 2016 recording the harmonium and synthesizer tracks that comprise the skeleton of the bracing new Mind Over Mirrors album Undying Color, his sixth and most accomplished full-length to date under that sobriquet. Although the album was fleshed out considerably in the spring with overdubs by other players at Chicago’s MINBAL studio—deftly assisted by recording and mixing engineer Cooper Crain of Bitchin’ Bajas—the Driftless proved an apt, even osmotic, origin for this set of compositions. With prayerful patience and ceremonial gravity, these seven extraordinary songs conjure and celebrate the cyclical rhythms of nature: tidal surges, human breathing, cicadas in the wilderness gloaming. The record’s forty-five minutes uncannily subsume listeners within an enveloping sensation of primeval remoteness, the heady wonder and instinctual trepidation of sleeping alone beneath the stars.
The immersive soundworld that saturates Undying Color elides the physical and the metaphysical. To wit, twelve-minute centerpiece “Gravity Wake,” commandingly sung by Haley Fohr (Circuit des Yeux, Jackie Lynn) and Janet Beveridge Bean (Eleventh Dream Day, Freakwater), is likely the eeriest and most sensual paean to Einstein’s theory of general relativity ever composed. And the album itself, following its punning title that substitutes “dying” for “dyeing,” is dedicated to Fennelly’s recently departed uncle, as if the transmutations of color into cloth analogize the potential transmutations of death into music. Belying the freezing winter weather from which it emerged, Undying Color glows with warmth, untouched by the iciness associated with so much music nominally categorized along the vectors of electronic music, ambient, or drone—inadequate taxa to describe this most recent transmutation of the ever-evolving Mind Over Mirrors praxis. Despite the academic and abstract valences, Mind Over Mirrors has always been body music. In live performance, Jaime’s feet are constantly pumping his harmonium’s pedals, emphasizing the music’s essential corporeality (in the sense of Harry Partch’s designation of “corporeal music.”) With Undying Color, more bodies bring a corresponding increase in heat.
While the project emerged in 2007 along a decidedly solo axis, following the dissolution of Fennelly’s prior group Peeesseye (with guitarist and fellow PoB artist Chris Forsyth and drummer/visual artist Fritz Welch), Mind Over Mirrors now resembles a band, or a constellation. In addition to the role Crain plays in making this Mind Over Mirrors’ most ambitious and spellbinding set of roiling, meditative recordings yet, Undying Color is also the first to supplement Fennelly’s foundational arsenal of Indian pedal harmonium and Oberheim synths with a full ensemble of players, including Jim Becker (fiddle; Califone, Iron and Wine) and Jon Mueller (drums, percussion; Death Blues, Volcano Choir). Fohr—who also contributed to antecedent album The Voice Calling (2015)—returns as a featured vocalist and lyricist, her incantatory vocals serving as foil to the more placid, honeyed lull of Bean. The potent combination of both singers on several songs recalls a fantasy duet between Catherine Ribeiro and Julee Cruise.
Beyond the incorporation of new textures and timbres into more complex arrangements, the revelation is a hypnotic new foregrounding of rhythm: the steady, stately throb of the concert bass drum on “Gravity Wake” and “Gray Clearer”; the helical sawing of fiddle strings that lends urgency to “Restore & Slip” and “Glossolaliac”; the rhythmic harmonium filtering that summons a choir of synthetic crickets atop “To the Edges”; and the electronically simulated harmonium brushwork of “600 Miles Around,” the album’s melancholy, elliptical coda. The absence of sharp percussive punctuation on “Splintering,” which features Mike Weis’ singing bowls in lieu of drums, imparts a conspicuously contrasting driftlessness, a feeling of ropes pulling against the moorings of rhythm.
Undying Color also asserts the interwoven formal and folk aspects of Mind Over Mirrors more dramatically than ever before. This sense of simultaneity, of braided vernacular and academic musical traditions, recalls Henry Flynt’s fusion of Appalachian music with avant-garde tactics, aligning Fennelly with other iconoclastic American composers like Charles Ives and Moondog known for similarly syncretic methods. Jaime specifically cites the Mississippi Hill Country fife and drum music of Otha Turner and the rhythmic mouth organ music of the Apatani of Northeastern India as influences on Undying Color (most directly noticeable in the syncopated, baritone snare drum-fueled rush of “Restore & Slip” and the harmonium exhalations of “Gray Clearer,” respectively.) Both vernacular instrumental traditions are linked through breathing to the bellows of the harmonium, still the foundation of Mind Over Mirrors’ sonic palette (its undying color). The persistent choice of the humble harmonium—a 19th-century pump and pedal-operated reed keyboard instrument that once featured prominently in North Indian and European classical and religious canons as well as the vernacular music of Scandinavia, the American South, and seagoing vessels—is significant for its historical, cultural, and folkloric associations (its human dimensions) as much the self-imposed compositional or technological limitations. Here it assumes a durational, devotional centrality, reconciling electronic and acoustic compositional elements in dynamic equilibrium, and tethering them in turn to the elements of air and earth.
What naturalist John Muir described in his journal as the sound of snow melting into music is the sound of a state change and motion: ice transforming into rivulets of water, moving toward creek, river, and finally to sea. The ancient Driftless terroir of Undying Color likewise contains evidence of Mind Over Mirrors’ enduring colorfastness in the midst of state change, from fixity to flux, maintaining clarity through change.
- Available on 140g virgin vinyl as an LP, with heavy-duty matte board jacket, full-color printed inner sleeve, and download code for the entire album.
- CD edition features heavy-duty matte gatefold jacket and LP replica artwork.
- Artwork by Timothy Breen.
- PoB artist page for Mind Over Mirrors.
- RIYL: Brian Eno, Henry Flynt, Moondog, Popul Vuh, Sun Ra, Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes, Arthur Russell, Laurie Spiegel.
The music Jaime Fennelly makes under the name Mind Over Mirrors creates a sense of everlasting wonder … Undying Color is shaping up to be praise music for the American landscape.
– Lars Gotrich, NPR Music
Near-religious drone. The effect is kaleidoscopic: not one outcome, but a shifting pattern of constants, their shape wont to change on each listen and with each listener. Undying Color, with all its complexity and potentially conflicting ideas, is contemporary folk without cliché – a thoroughly modern mythology and a lens through which to more freely interpret the watertight exactitudes of our 21st-century way of thinking and of moving through the world. Or, more accurately, this album is a two-way mirror from which either side can see an entirely familiar landscape… where the signifiers remain the same but are rendered uncanny by the strangeness of what they signify.
– Karl Smith, The Quietus
4/5 stars. Pulsing, cyclical grooves which ally grounded, folksy timbres to minimalist methods… the solemn bass drum and droning harmonium have the oceanic desolation of a drowned shanty.
– Andy Gill, The Independent
The most diverse Mind Over Mirrors release so far, featuring detailed sonic textures, percussion-led rhythms, and a web of singing that opens up new spaces in the music.
– Marc Masters, The Wire
Devotional ambient dreamscapes, oak-aged kosmische jams, a kaleidoscopic game of drones… Undying Color offers a rich, textured experience. This psych sound world demands full sensory immersion, but once inside there’s much to enjoy, as it follows in the fertile footsteps of Terry Riley and Alice Coltrane.
– Stephen Dalton, Uncut
Ambient tones and drones recall the time-lapse of an epic nature documentary but soon transform into a theme or a groove, rendering the compositions active listening. It’s refreshing to see a musician approach their work with such intention, such mindfulness, such clarity of vision.
– Justin Joffe, The Observer
Grade: A. The cumulative effect is like tripping balls with Steve Reich on Roscoe Holcomb’s back porch. The outstanding results span from roots potency to the edginess of the avant-garde with iconoclastic warmth a constant. The experimental music field gets frequently and somewhat unfairly portrayed as a rather cold milieu, but Mind Over Mirrors diverts from this stereotype.
– Joseph Neff, The Vinyl District
8/10. There are natural forces at work in the sound of Mind Over Mirrors’ Undying Color. Its meditative drones move forward with a sense of direction, their weight determining their course. While so often synthesizer music seeks to make the listener feel weightless, Fennelly finds beauty in binding, securing forces.
– Jason Woodbury, FLOOD Magazine
Across seven tracks, Fennelly delivers striking, life-affirming folk with electronics experimentations.
– The Quietus
The new album contains some of his strongest compositions… hypnotizing layers of harmonium and synthesizer. The extra voices don’t disrupt Fennelly’s meditative, cosmic-rustic sound—instead it blossoms with a much richer and better developed palette of timbres and a broader dynamic range.
– Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader
Massive, hypnotic, endless … shoots straight for the stratosphere.
Stirring, introspective music that sounds like something plucked out of an Andrei Tarkovsky film, or produced by mapping the orbits of celestial bodies on an LP record.
– Blouin ArtInfo
4/5 stars. Hypnotic… illustrating a tension between reflection and action.
– Ludovic Hunter-Tilney, Financial Times
Trance-inducing rhythms and million-mile-stare drones… sonically inducing transcendence.
– Bill Meyer, Magnet
Vocalists Haley Fohr and Janet Beveridge Bean add to Fennelly’s stratospheric soundscapes with textural vocalizations that bring to mind the orbital beauty of Steve Reich while achieving an analog warmth all its own.
– Miles Bowe, FACT Magazine
Immersive sonic worlds… The rebounding sounds that dominate Undying Color have a cumulative effect, and form a kind of aural mist within the listener can get lost. Charming.
– Alun Hamnett, Record Collector
Fennelly ploughs his own unique furrow, blending ethnic sources from North India and everywhere from Wisconsin to Mississippi to Appalachia in his homeland, assembling it all in Chicago. What lifts this set… is his embracing of collaborators to spice his soundscapes, always underscored by his own evocative foot-pumped organ and Oberheim synth combination.
– Keith Bruce, Herald Scotland
Devotional and alarming … an out-of-body experience.
– NPR Music
Fennelly’s keys churn and cycle like one of Terry Riley’s vintage all-night flights… synching with violin and Haley Fohr’s voice. A cosmic trip that condenses expansive minimalist explorations into delectably concise three-minute lengths.
Wintry designs, warmed by the likes of Bitchin’ Bajas’ layering instruments, voices, and electronics.
Rough, absorbing and hypnotic, like a rural American wilderness folk take on the explorative instrumentalism of Battles.
– Loud and Quiet
A luminous swirl of exuberant fiddle tunes and melancholic drones … a rushing mashup of La Monte Young-style minimalism and Appalachian folk.
– Tiny Mix Tapes
The new record is already shaping up to be one of 2017’s most visceral experiences … a searing, spectacular instrumental soundscape that confounds and delights in shifting but ultimately equal measure.
– Gold Flake Paint
His most assured statement—among many qualified others—yet.
– Ad Hoc
An incantation of synthesizers, drone, beating heartbeat pulses and nature magic. Beware: This one is likely to put you in a trance.
A staggering album of zen wisdom and awe… a monument of sonic wonder… a beacon for what’s possible if fearless experimentation is pursued. This is an album that can either be played from the bottom the darkest mine, from the highest point of any landscape, or in the smallest space between your ears; it escapes the usual measures. Imagine a strange place where dropping a cathedral to the bottom of canyon is possible. It’s just fucking massive.
– Pop Bollocks