As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosphere hopes to shed a bit of light and share a bit of information on the up and coming sounds of artists such as Jozef Van Wissem.
Like many, thanks to the destruction caused by Gordon Sumner, you may very well believe the lute to be a pretentious, egotistical, Adult Contemporary piece of musical accompaniment. While aging rock stars may treat it as a cash grab and a chance to tap into an apathetic market, there are artists and musicians whose fascination with the lute (and its many variations and forms) is deeper than seeing how to transform a catalog’s worth of hits into re-imagined cash grabs. Enter Jozef Van Wissem and his newest batch of Renaissance and Baroque lute compositions, It Is All That Is Made, on Important Records.
The album draws its inspiration from passages from the first chapter of Genesis, but it is more out of appreciation of the lute’s storied history and not as some instrumental interpretation of the words therein. It Is All That Is Made does a seamless job of transitioning between smooth, strummed tracks and more avant; psych-folk influenced plucks and ragas. The odd tracks (save album finale “Sola Fide”) are steely meditations, with carefully crafted and exquisitely raked melodies. Whether the purpose of these tracks is transition or relaxation, it doesn’t matter. The old world sounds coaxed from Van Wissem’s lutes lend themselves to the sort of rolling boil these centered ‘breaks’ provide -- never seeking to become massive dins of epochs gone by nor trying to stir the pot to create uncontrollable ripples and scolding splashes.
It’s the even numbered tracks of It Is All That Is Made that find Van Wissem manipulating the lute’s magical chimes into modern folk composition. However, as maniacal as it may seem, these transformations aren’t as twisted or psychedelic as those of his modern contemporaries. The album’s title track, as well as “The Stars Fall from the Sky and the Heavens Are Rolled Up like a Scroll,” is authentically poppy, washing away the mistaken belief that psych-folk is just a storm of gnarled notes and acid-washed picking. Van Wissem’s compositions are just as much about displaying the power and presence of the lute as they are about creating unique pieces of music. Where the likes of Sting failed to cherish the history of the lute outside of snide interview comments, Jozef Van Wissem breathes life into the epochal instrument, bringing it upon a new generation to appreciate and discover.
Justin Spicer is a freelance journalist who also runs the webzine, Electronic Voice Phenomenon. He writes the Monday News Mash-Up and Thursday edition of Song of the Day for the KEXP Blog. You can now follow him on Twitter.