French artist Félicia Atkinson has been drawing inspiration from her travels to the United States for many years. In 2011 she released “O-RE-GON”, a record made in the titular state while recovering from Lyme disease caught in the deep woods of upstate New York. The music on the album has a drowsy, almost delirious feel to it, as if Atkinson was still lost in the woods, in the grip of disease — not a morbid impression, but damp and dreamlike. Atkinson’s latest release “Coyotes” was inspired by a recent trip to New Mexico, and has a correspondingly drier, sunnier air.
Over the years New Mexico has been a haven to many artists, not least the painters Agnes Martin and Georgia O’Keefe, whose home towns of Taos and Abiquiú Atkinson visited in 2017. Although Martin declared that the inspiration for her paintings did not come from a desire to imitate things out there in the world, her hues became noticeably lighter and paler following her move to the so-called ‘Land of Enchantment’, as if washed out by strong desert sunlight. O’Keefe went one step further and represented the forms of the New Mexico landscape countless times in her work. This landscape has played the role not merely of backdrop, but of profound shaping force in countless cultures throughout the centuries, including those of its Navajo, Apache, Tewa, Mexican, Chicano, and Anglo-American inhabitants.
Atkinson’s own take on the state features the complexity of form and structure heard on other recent releases such as “Hand in Hand” and “A Readymade Ceremony”; however, the somewhat cool distance of those two records is here set aside for a warmth and intimacy that harks back to earlier work by the French artist. The steady recitation of place names on ‘Lighter Than Aluminium’ brought me straight back to possibly the very first piece of music I ever heard from Atkinson, the track ‘Aberdeen’ from 2008’s ‘Roman Anglais’ with Sylvain Chauveau. Percussive and electric tones are arranged into melodic fragments that have a certain playfulness and freedom to them, the rhythms are sometimes not quite regular, and timbres are tastefully muffled or shimmer in heat: classic Atkinson qualities. At the same time, the album’s two tracks are woven from multiple strands and shift their orientation numerous times throughout their roughly fifteen-minute duration, eschewing the simple single drones of older work for the more complex arrangements of recent endeavours.
The liner notes allude to Atkinson’s care to avoid the packaging and consumption of a place, specifically the sacred grounds of several Native American nations, as product. But this never feels like a concern to me, because for me “Coyotes” is as much about travelling within yourself as it is about an external geographic reference point. You can visit somewhere new, but inside you arrive at somewhere you’ve already been; the place is already a part of you, though you may be acutely aware of being a foreigner and stranger passing through it. Time is not a line, nor does it move in circles; rather, it is a spiral, each revolution closing in tighter and tighter around — around what? A truth? The meaning of a life? Does it ever close in completely on itself, or is it like the arrow in Zeno’s Paradox, forever traversing half the distance to its target, then half the remaining distance, then half again…? (“The archer is looking a the archive…”)
I hope Félicia Atkinson continues to visit the States on a regular basis, as it’s clearly full of places that inspire her and draw out some of her best music. But more than geographic exploration, it’s her commitment to inner travel, to reflecting on and examining every corner of herself as a human traveller through both space and time, that makes her music so powerful and moving. As countless people throughout the ages, including Martin and O’Keefe, have found, sometimes the desert is the best place to do just that.[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=1931822 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small track=1117138550]