Elskavon & John Hayes – Du Nord

Credit: Kaleb Musser

On Du Nord, Elskavon (aka Chris Bartels) and pianist John Hayes breathe out the colder climate of Minnesota, especially the sub-zero bite of winter in the Midwest. Bartels and Hayes formed a friendship through their mutual musical interests, with their common connector being a shared love for ambient and classical composition. Du Nord, released November 20 via Western Vinyl, is their debut, and it presents a progressive sound in the vein of modern composition. It’s the sound of their home state and its long winter months, which roar and then go into hibernation. Those months can drag on, and on, and on…

The stark seasonal change of the Midwest is felt within their music, but Du Nord remains icy. The winter temperatures have sharp teeth, and the cold seeps into Du Nord. Although Minnesota’s winters can be stark and unforgiving, the music always has its eye on the inevitability of spring, and it’s capable of finding the comfort of shelter and a warm, cuddled-up space even when the rain is pouring down and the banks of deep, soft snow are piling up; when the season seems endless, when the dark has already drawn a curtain across an afternoon, and when spring seems like another lifetime, a million miles away. In those hours, and on dreary, December days, darkness has a long reach. With darkness can come futility, death, depression, and despair, but winter can be a contrasting season, offering the stillness and the storm, the only constant being frost-covered mornings and a raw, penetrating cold that seeps into the skeleton. In spite of this, renewal is never far away, and on Du Nord, listeners get a taste of this promise.

The piano throws off heat to keep the listener warm. Its notes radiate body heat; the more notes populating a piece of music, the warmer the track becomes. Winter is a shared experience, and there is comfort in that, too, but when the notes disperse and the stark emptiness envelops the music, the ice returns. With titles such as ‘Closer’ and ‘Cold Is Not So Cold’, the music has a fighting, resolute spirit and a feeling of camaraderie and fellowship during a bleak winter, a community coming together to look after one another as a blizzard continues to rage, with no sign of it abating. The piano’s notes are more like flurries than massive snowstorms, but they steadily pile up. Du Nord’s periods of increased activity and barren gaps of ambient sound, which increase the sense of stillness, are poles apart, reflecting a range of weather patterns, a raging storm melting into the beauty of snow-covered ground, and the unpredictability of the season.


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