As expected, The Quiet City is a welcome slice of modern classical music from David Wenngren’s Library Tapes. The project has yielded a gold standard time and time again, but there’s something remarkably poised about this release and its music sets it above its brothers and sisters. The Quiet City is a place of flowering composure and poise. Prevalent city-toxicity and the poison of politician-speak is no longer on tap. The world as we currently know it is put on mute, and that can’t be a bad thing. Any selfishness, like refusing to wear a mask in the middle of a pandemic because of a perceived and nonsensical threat to an individual’s liberty, is no longer a news headline, because it doesn’t exist within the music’s ecosystem, which is bright-eyed and far removed from drama. The Quiet City is a refuge, a record as small as a cottage, but full of so much soul and life and colour that it becomes a real home, and one for life. Its slower-paced sanity has been embedded with intelligent phrasing, and Library Tapes bucks the decline of civility and the voice of reason with superlative music.
Despite its title, Wenngren’s compositions are evocative of rural England. The music travels ‘Through the Woods’ and moves on to ‘Brighter Lights’, indicating the rural amid the urban, and a small, well-kept churchyard just off a main road or a side street. These little secluded areas feed and water the piano, and the music provides a calm sanctuary as notes are scattered throughout the metropolitan areas. The strings drip with a cold rain and turn blades of grass a sharper green.
Wenngren is joined by Akira Kosemura, Julia Kent, Hoshiko Yamane, Michael A. Muller, and Olivia Belli, all of whom bring their talents to the record. A desperate yearning to return to a better time seems to be on the music’s mind. Returning feels like a theme: returning to the land, to a kinder period, to a quieter time, back when the world wasn’t so loud or disorienting or distressing. ‘It Wasn’t Always Like This’ is a stirring piece where strings gradually rise, aching with vibrato, while a thinner ambient texture sidles alongside, wrapping its arm around the strings and comforting them, mourning for the lost and unrecoverable. Mind-clearing strings and piano oxygenate the music, like a scattering of trees, and a deeper ambient melody passes through them, enriching and nourishing the music and providing balance when the strings aren’t in use. The Quiet City is shy and yet incredibly expressive. It doesn’t need to shout from the rooftops, and therein lies its charm.