Look To The North – `You’re A Séance, Old North’
In a sect of Japanese Buddhism called Shingon Buddhism, there was a small group of monks in the Northern Japanese Yamagata prefecture on Honshu Island that attempted self-mummification. They called those who succeeded sokushinbutsu 即身仏.
With the devotional, ambient gem that is “You’re A Séance, Old North“, David Colohan and Zachary Corsa (the duo that constitute “Look to the North”) knowledgeably execute a process of reverential and gentle archaeology. Layers are slowly peeled away, overlapping washes are carefully and slowly resolved, care is taken throughout and the tools of the trade (the autoharp, the field recordings, the shortwave and the confessional sound fragments) are employed with deftness and expertise to reveal a truth.
There is a balance to things.
There are two tracks here, each of 20 minutes length; the two musicians present these tracks to us with complementary structures and parallel instrumentation. Corresponding curating snippets of voice in each track (male in the first, female in the second) guide us through a journey of reflective discovery that is in the best traditions of the broad church of drone music.
In the wonderfully titled first track “Where You Vanished Off The Edges Of A Cul-De-Sac, Like Falling Off A Map”; a thick, undulating landscape of ambient swell dotted with a surface layer of soft field recordings unfolds before us. This is eventually and tentatively penetrated by distant but insistent voices, and through those first few cracks in the outer mantle of this album come the plaintive notes of a parlour piano escaping out to us, providing those first glimpses of evidence that something is waiting for us, something is to be found on this record. But not yet, with easy drama Colohan and Corsa re-bury those fragments, protecting them from the atmosphere like the dutiful guardians they are.
It is with the second track “‘Harriet Was Here’, Less So Now” that revelations come more readily. As if to prepare us for the fact that these revelations will be challenging, a warning note is sounded, and then we are through. Through at first to the realm of spectral drones and ghostly backward echoes such as one might expect to find under the surface layer of things, a last attempt by arcane sentries to stay our progress perhaps. But “Look to the North” beckon us deeper, we are brave in their capable hands and things soon become more resolved. The first lone bleached notes of acoustic guitar begin to poke through, melody follows. We are glimpsing the ribs of a long-hidden sokushinbutsu, and we begin to appreciate the value of the find as it is unearthed before us.
“You’re A Séance, Old North” uncovers things, it reveals ancient truths, it awakens dormant memories and it provides a mirrored surface that allows us to reflect and view our feelings of mortality more objectively. It leads us to a discovery, gently and kindly, but the interpretation of what we find must be our own and ours alone.
Jim Griffin, Limerick, November 19th, 2016