Christina Vantzou’s sophomore album, No. 2, has long been anticipated. Three and a half years ago, her debut (No. 1) came out and was an instant success. No. 2 has spent four years in development. Although the periods overlap, No. 2 feels different than its predecessor. It has its own beautiful presence. Every note lives and breathes (just like its predecessor), but the compositions are calmer, clearer and somehow older. No. 2 knocks the listener out with thunderous drones, spiritual interludes and some heart-tugging string poetry. Emotions run high. She takes orchestral drone and its philosophy to new heights, and while her latest only hangs around for thirty five minutes, it is always a fulfilling listen. Vantzou never wastes a precious second in developing and then releasing its beauty.
Vantzou used synthesizers, samples and collaborated with Minna Choi of San Francisco’s Magik*Magik Orchestra, working with her on arrangements and scores. The 15-piece ensemble, along with the inclusion of bassoon and oboe, help to create a dense, vibrant jungle of sound where colourful textures are allowed to roam freely. A thin, ethereal veil billows like a strange white sheet, its swaying movement indicating a slight tear in reality. Slicing through the drone, the strings captivate the listener with their serene inhalations, but they struggle to break free of the murky atmosphere. ‘Brain Fog’ is a calming influence, but it also exerts an unsettling air that hovers over the drone.
On ‘Going Backwards to Recover What Was Left Behind’ the piano rests in its sad sanctuary. The strings come to lift her out of the mire, but they too find themselves caught in the fog. They temporarily lift the mood, but by the end of the piece neither has really risen. No. 2 plays as one flowing movement. There is a soft link, some vague continuation that was constructed in her past. It isn’t necessarily a sequel, but a thought that had previously found its bedrock in her music long ago, and one that is only now awakening. The hushed mystery is subdued but very much alive, and it grows throughout the album. The pieces stick tightly together, glued to a strand of thick, oozing drone. The thinner branches of the bows take turns with the drone, sometimes playing in unison without ever competing. Neither are out of place.
Angelic voices rise up and lift the music on ‘Vancouver Island Quartet’, ghosting out a thin trace of melody with an invisible, beautiful vocal. Echoing out of the deep water as if it were a song of the sirens, the vocal calls out to the listener. The voices recur throughout, also appearing on the slightly darker ‘Sister’. The faded colour of ‘VHS’ invites the listener to look through ancient eyes, viewing historic, pastoral scenes that revel in the tape’s lack of clarity. Thanks to the dusty period, the tones are harder to fathom. The worn memory is left to permanently decay, and the darker lines of tape crinkle the image. Drones lie low, pierced occasionally by a mysterious voice. Fading in and then out again, the drones come to submerge the beloved scene. Vantzou’s music is punctuated by drones. Sometimes, the strings seem to dangle as if on a knife edge, only for a stable, deep drone to bring them back home again.
‘Little Darlin’ Seize the Sun’ is a two minute treasure that fizzles lightly, patient and relaxed, drawing itself out in a natural way. It was born to do this. The tone is in transit, the drones darken and then are eclipsed. And with Adam Wiltzie (Stars of the Lid / A Winged Victory for the Sullen / The Dead Texan) on engineering duties – not to mention providing his deeper textures – you can be sure of the resulting quality. Vantzou herself is a cinematographer (and was one half of The Dead Texan) and as such her music is rich in sweeping vistas and spacious, wind-driven chasms that take the listener out and beyond. ‘The Magic of the Autodidact’ is evidence enough. It breezes through, past ancient, amazing structures that take the breath away; bronze artifacts that reflect a stunning, golden light, coming as health to the spirit.