A meditative record with songs ranging from beautiful chamber folk to classical, best listened to on headphones.
Complete Mountain Almanac is a collaboration between Norwegian-born, Sweden-based singer and composer Rebekka Karijord and the American-born, Italy-based poet, dancer, and multimedia artist Jessica Dessner. They met by chance in Brooklyn 15 years ago and immediately struck up a friendship. The album comprises a suite of a dozen songs named after the months of the year. It was originally conceived as a 12-song cycle focusing on climate change. However, at the beginning of 2018, Dessner was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy. This led to the nature of the record changing. Dessner says, “It was such a fragile time for me. At some point, Rebekka sent a note to say that if I would like to use the project to deal with what I was going through, she was really open to that.”
The songs on the album are based upon the poems of Dessner with the music written by Karijord. Dessner’s twin brothers, Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National, contribute folk-style guitar on most tracks; they also coproduced it. Karijord added complementing instrumentation including horns and synthesisers and Bryce Dessner wrote string arrangements for six songs, which were performed by the Malmö Symphony Orchestra.
The songs on the record reflect Dessner’s battle with cancer and the planet’s changing climate. ‘February’ highlights the Malmö Symphony Orchestra’s splendid string playing which lead up to the chorus, ‘She went to her great love, Without her body intact, Did he take her in his arms, Love all that was left?’. The song ends with the defiant, ‘Here she lived, Here she is, She’s still here’.
‘May’ is the standout track with its layered guitars which fit perfectly with Karijord’s voice. It’s a song born of the earth and our place on it. Although the lyrics of some of the songs are succinct, they’re still beautifully crafted. ‘June’ is a good example of this. The entirety of its words are, ‘The clouds go away, But the moon has to stay in the dark, It is full like no other, The colour of a face and lights’. It’s a cyclical and hypnotic piece. ‘December’ brings the album to a close with the apt lyrics, ‘Birth, old age, sickness, death, (four seasons), Live all four of these and you can say you lived’.
In an age when streaming has left many of us dismissing records after one listen, or even worse a few seconds, this is an album that is worthy of a significant investment of your time in order to unlock its depths; so settle down in your favourite chair, put some headphones on and immerse yourself in this music.
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