It is rare that an album of such simple parts can leapfrog generic boundaries with complete abandon, yet that is exactly what Jozef Van Wissem does with his 13th solo album "It Is Time For You To Return". Simply put, this music is made up primarily of Van Wissem's lutes, some vocals and that's almost it, apart from three tracks where he is joined by Jim Jarmusch, Domingo García-Huidobro and Yasmine Hamdan.
The album begins with the somewhat plaintive "If There's Nothing Left Where Will You Go?", a simple, beautiful piece that takes its time going where it will, creating little expectations within itself that it thwarts.
"Love Destroys All Evil" lives up to the expectations the album cover delivers (I'll come back to the cover later, though), and evokes black metal muses to create something that through purely compositional elements is as intense as any set of thundering guitars and double kick drums. While Van Wissem is not leather-lunged growler, his voice has a quaint charm mixed with just the right level of exhortation as he proclaims "Love destroys all evil / and frees us". Right at the end, he adds "from fear" making for an excellent ending.
"Once More With Feeling" threw me at first – I thought it was some kind of interpretation of the old Kris Kristofferson track, but a quick check of the liner notes set me right. This is an original lute composition by Van Wissem, quite minimalist, only slightly baroque in tone, steadily, quietly building, breaking down in a faux ending, before setting off again with a new set of harmonies, giving a new feeling to the piece.
"Confinement" brings in additional instrumentation, beginning with glitch beats by Domingo Garcia-Huidobro. Van Wissem enters with both lute and vocals. The song has a different feel – utterly different – to the earlier "Love Destroys All Evil". This time, rather than baroque black metal, the feeling is somewhere closer to the indie rock vein.
"Wherever You Will Live I Will Live" brings a slightly more melancholic air, and is a beautifully structured lute-only composition. The tonal diversity of the lutes is a prominent feature here, the string sounds ranging from harp-like to bell-like to a near-percussive plucking.
"You Can't Take It With You" brightens the mood considerably, although with a degree of irony. The indie rock vibe returns, but this time, with a more upbeat inclination, a certain naïve lightness disguising a subject matter that would normally be treated more darkly. It is a furtively complex track, which is probably the reason it is – indirectly – the title track of the album. "Gather your belongings / Gather your Beloved / You can't take them with you". Whether to a new life, or to death, the song seems to say, none of that which you value can come with you. It ends "It is time for you to return". Just you.
This minimal living concept is further demonstrated by the album artwork, featuring bare rooms minimally decorated. This is further clarified by Van Wissem's remarks in relation to scoring "Only Lovers Left Alive", quoted by The Washington Post:
Jim’s film is anti-contemporary-society. And the lute goes against all technology and against all computers and against all the shit you don’t need.
The glitches return, chittering along, introducing "Temple Dance of the Soul". García-Huidobro is a filmmaker and guitarist for Chilean psychedelic warriors, Föllakzoid. The skills he displays here are different from anything Föllakzoid has done, although his remix of the band's "Pulsar" (available on the album "Todo Muere Vol. 4" on Sacred Bones Records) has indications of them. Van Wissem has collaborated with García-Huidobro before, supplying a live soundtrack to his film "Partir To Live" (of that project, which toured the UK earlier this year, Van Wissem said 'The score of partir to live consists of appropriated 12 string electric guitar drone, black baroque lute mirror images and minimal electronics.' ). Temple is perhaps the most obviously baroque-inflected composition on offer in terms of the lute playing at least.
"After We Leave" is another elegiac piece, moving with very deliberate and carefully contemplated steps, a million miles away from the strict metrics of electronic music. Electronics do figure in terms of treatment of the lute, but the effect is one of creating spaciousness, waving on the edge of agoraphobic. The tension between the up-close and the distant is almost mesmerising.
"Invocation of the Spirit Spell" sees the inclusion of Yasmine Hamdan and Jim Jarmusch. Hamdan has worked previously with CocoRosie, Mirwais, and Marc Collin (who worked on her solo album "Ya Nass", also released by Crammed Discs), as well as both Van Wissem and Jarmusch. She both appeared in, and supplied a track for Jarmusch's film "Only Lovers Left Alive", a film Van Wissem supplied the soundtrack for (and won a Cannes award consequently). Jarmusch has collaborated with Van Wissem outside of film, notably with his band SQÜRL, and on two albums ("Concerning the Entrance into Eternity" (Important Records, 2012) and "The Mystery of Heaven" (Sacred Bones Records, 2012), the latter featuring a contribution by actor Tilda Swinton, who also starred in "Only Lovers Left Alive"). "Invocation of the Spirit Spell" is another deceptively simple piece, one that this time relies on creating an atmosphere with its layers. Jarmusch's guitar creates a low, fuzzy background to Van Wissem's unhurried glissandos, while Hamdan's vocals are simultaneously present and distant. The vocals begin layering into a kind of choral miasma, before retreating in an electronically processed cloud, leaving only lute and guitar, the latter humming towards the album's end.
Whatever you do, don't judge this album by its cover: that exorcist-cum-Rasputin image is purely a portrait of the man more than the music.
"It Is Time For You To Return" is a strangely captivating experience, minimalist without emptiness, contemplative without self-indulgence. It is a glance into the void that discovers opalescence, and finds it beautiful.