(Whited Sepulchre, 2016)
I’ve reviewed Brayeden Jae McKenna’s work in the past for #CASSETTEGODS, namely his Inner Islands cassette releases Turnings and six wishes, the latter under his moniker, softest. I’ve been most impressed with the Salt Lake City musician’s ability to conjure up vast expanses of sound – in my imagination, his songs become worlds that stretch, physically, psychically, emotionally, into the infinite, fully realized worlds where particular narratives play out in their wordless progression. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, he focuses on guitar-based compositions in an ambient vein, and peppers them with synthesizer, piano, field recordings, and other effects. The results are often mournful, definitely introspective, and are perfect for meditative activities.
Fog Mirror is his newest release and first for Whited Sepulchre Records, a new, vinyl label from Tome to the Weather Machine/Heligator Records’s honcho Ryan Hall. True to its name, the record is hazy, opaque, and inward looking. I’m not sure if you’ve read the first paragraph or not, but you should absolutely expect this going into it. I did, and I’m still enthralled by every second that passes. There’s a density to the music, but also a lightness, allowing for deep breaths and spiritual buoyancy, but also hiding deeper truths that must be uncovered. That’s the fun of it, though, digging through your emotional baggage and sorting your own mind so that you can come out better in the end. While listening to the music, of course.
If I’ve sort of given you some shoegazey thoughts as you read this, it’s not inadvertent. Imagine a lone guitar plugged into a practice amp behind a closed door in a bedroom down the hall. Now imagine the player layering sheets of tone, one over top the other, through a ton of pedals and looping the whole thing, stretching and manipulating it like taffy or cotton candy. The physical barriers to the sonics blur them, distorting the end result and effecting a surreal, dreamlike quality. Have you ever listened to Low’s “Will the Night”? Not the Secret Name version, but the one that leads off the Songs for a Dead Pilot EP. If you have, you get the idea – there’s melody within the vapor, but you have to attune your ear to it.
The five tracks all further these ideas, both in titling and in execution. “Vanishing Procession” leads off the record and introduces the vibe perfectly, and it’s notable for its inclusion of field recordings: pops and clicks appear, as does what sounds like water, and it all devolves or disintegrates toward static by the end of the track. “More Washed Feeler” and “Two Mirrors Looking” do similar things but with less found sound, and “Fogged Placer” ends the album with twelve overwhelmingly delicate minutes of droning splendor. “Obscured and Waiting” is the dirge in the middle of the record, and includes piano and synth string arrangements as its primary features. It’s a respite from the other material, welcome, sure, but also asserting its place as an eye in the middle of a billowing effect hurricane – albeit one that doesn’t move very quickly or isn’t very violent.
That’s sort of what Braeyden Jae accomplishes with his music – he lets the natural progression of his instrument move with the tides of his imagination, and instead of imposing himself so strictly onto it, he lets it flow instinctively. That’s what makes his work so engaging, as well as enlightening. And now he’s finally on vinyl, which sounds amazing, and all is definitely right with the world.