Album Review :
Jacob Montague - All Creatures Volume One

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Artist: Jacob Montague
Title: All Creatures – Volume One
Label: None
Release Date: 02/11/2014
Reviewer: Josh Hamm

Tracklisting:

  1. In Him
  2. Tinder/Spark
  3. Doxology
  4. Canticle Of The Sun
  5. All Creatures
  6. Sermon To The Birds

Jacob Montague is a nuanced composer and producer. As a part of electronic folk band Achilles and the Tortoise, folk rock outfit Branches, and producer of over a dozen albums, he’s honed his talents well. His solo instrumental albums also reveal his propensity for subtlety and creative flair. But it’s on his latest EP, All Creatures – Volume One, that he truly comes into his own as a musician. Like Son Lux, he relies on repetition, but it’s far from a mindless chorus, instead taking on a liturgical sentiment as each phrase builds upon the previous with a sombre reverence seldom heard in songs today.

That sombre reverence is paired with a melancholic joy; the sounds of one who has lost all but gained everything. I say melancholic because there’s little to be found that would stand alone as particularly joyful; so much of the album is steeped in a sublime sense of beauty that no emotion save awe is found on its own. It is neither sad nor happy, but both, as it wraps up sorrow and joy in a wave of wonder that cascades all around you.

“In Him” opens simply; a piano softly chimes, joined by a piercing voice, soon joined by another, deeper, rounding out the sound. It’s almost angelic in tone, set against a backdrop of eclectic instruments woven together until you don’t know where one starts and the other ends. It’s a masterfully constructed song that immediately sets the album apart from any other. Then it moves on to “Tinder/Spark,” which lays the percussion on thick, opting for a resounding feel, earthy in comparison to the lofty ethereal qualities of the opener. It’s a call for the tinder of our souls to be lit by a spark, for God to not hide His eyes from us.

“Doxology.” The well known refrain stands as one of my favourite songs to sing in worship, but I’ve never heard it like this. The blending of classical and electronic sensibilities are fully on display, and the result is a gorgeous hymn that both lifts and breaks my heart. It runs through the traditional Common Doxology, “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow / Praise him, all creatures here below / Praise him above, ye heavenly host / Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” But then it adds a new line, richly resonant, which reminds us of the paradoxes inherent in God’s creation and destruction:”You destroyed them like ships at sea, shattered by an east wind.” Then with the next breath he sings out again “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.” The new lyric is adapted from Psalm 48:7, and it plays with the concept of the east wind throughout the Old Testament, which is often seen as a violent and destructive force. The context in the song lends itself to a much more Job-like sense of worship: “the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” It’s a perfect vessel for the tone of the album.

Opening with horns and woodwinds, “Canticle of the Sun” is the most joyful song on the album. It’s also the first where the influences of St. Francis of Assisi began to reveal themselves more fully. The title of this track is taken from a poem of his, but the lyrics are entirely original. It’s anchored the phrase: “We don’t need candles anymore / You bring the rising sun.” The intense buildup near the end winds down to echo the soft opening, the song fades seamlessly into the next. “All Creatures” is a cover of one version of St. Francis’s lyrics for the original poem “Canticle of the Sun,” and Jacob’s simple approach does him and the song credit. It’s almost a cappella, with only enough music in the background to supplement the layered vocals, but never enough to overwhelm them.

The album closes – much too soon – with “Sermon to the Birds,” an instrumental that flows quietly along with sudden bursts of passion and echoing alleluias that melt into the background.

Overall: My favourite music is that which is impossible to describe. Music that connects on some level that my heart leaps up with joy when I hear the first notes begin to play. That’s what All Creatures Volume One does for me. It is written that we see through a glass darkly – as if a window were frosted over, leaving only a shadowy glimmer of the world beyond. Jacob Montague has wiped away the frost, allowing us a small glimpse through a glass which is now just a little bit brighter.

RIYL: Son Lux, Sufjan Stevens, You’re the Queen Cosette, Branches, Volcano Choir, La Liberte

 

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