The term “renaissance man” is tailor made for an artist like Eyvind Kang. He’s a prolific composer, multi-instrumentalist, and frequent guest star, lending his unique contemporary-classical style to collaborations with indie rock stalwarts Blonde Redhead and experimental icons Sun City Girls among dozens others. It’s on solo efforts like The Yelm Sessions, released in November on Tzadik, where his vision and talent can truly be appreciated.
“I’ve been working on it for three years,” Kang says of the album. “I didn’t set out to record everything as a whole; it’s more like an album of different ideas and experiences I had over that time that in retrospect had a sequence. There was a reason that it fit together.”
The Yelm Sessions is a flowing, epic production that shows off Kang’s classical training and progressive spirit, marrying orchestral flourishes with delicate chamber music and groaning, screeching jags of sound or subtle electronic augmentation. The album’s layered mélange of influences is the result of a European excursion through Rome and Vienna on which many of the tracks were recorded. Kang attributes the ethereal mood of The Yelm Sessions to the trip. “It’s the feeling of traveling and coming home, and all of the experiences you have in your memory. You return home and years later something triggers the memory—a feeling or the smell of a bakery—and there’s a weird longing that you feel. I wanted to make the music like that—very dreamlike, a musical travelogue.”
Songs like “Enter the Garden” and “Asa Tru” paint gorgeous aural landscapes, but Kang’s journey isn’t limited to the beautiful and the picturesque. “Hawks Prairie” is dark and predatory, like something out of a medieval black forest where the imagination conjures danger in every shadow. The looming dread is broken only by the harsh drag of a bow across violin strings, squealing and screeching, like the song itself is being gutted. It’s a harrowing experience, yet impossible to skip.
Kang draws particular influence on The Yelm Sessions from the baroque melodies of J.S. Bach and the romanticism of Anton Bruckner. One can detect the slightest threads of Philip Glass on the arpeggiated backdrop of the title track. “Mistress Mine” borrows lyrics from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, continuing a dialogue with the Renaissance that Kang began on last summer’s Athlantis (Ipecac), on which he utilized the writings of Giordano Bruno. “Bruno was a martyr; he was burned at the stake,” Kang reveals, referring to Bruno’s support of science and condemnation for heresy. “His writing and subject matter is up my alley, and he has a great sense of humor. I feel like I’m friends with these guys.”
Much like how the works of Bruno and his contemporaries have sparked Kang’s creative energies, he hopes that The Yelm Sessions serves as inspiration to others. “I want to open doorways to neurons,” he says, “not to affect people in a particular way but to help them find their own feelings and emotional response.” To that end, Kang has provided a potent and provocative album that’s just waiting to unlock those doors for those willing to listen.
-Michael Patrick Brady