The most impressive band to come out of Greg and Jessica Weeks’s Language of Stone repertoire so far is Ex Reverie. It’s the spawn of Gillian Chadwick, the other half of Jessica Weeks’s Woodwose.
Chadwick’s singing on the band’s debut, The Door into Summer, evokes a more sinister Sandy Denny (Fairport Convention), her voice rising like an incantation over the music and then falling back among the flora. Her tonal flexibility allows her to keep up with the fertile evolution of her suites (more than half the songs here exceed five minutes).
This evolution carries each song through a distinct musical history loosely rooted in parallel musical histories: that of the stringed instrument, of folk and rock music, and of her own experience as a listener and player. Listening through the accelerated eons of her songs is the equivalent of watching a lizard grow wings and feathers in real time.
Chadwick’s lyrics present a world where natural forces "move quickly in slow motion" and where "constancy and context tumble in silky sleeves." Corruption dances with purification, quick passions slide into birth cycles, and gods trade places with mortals. In "The Years," Chadwick tells the story of a sea goddess who emerges from the water every generation to find her old subjects gone. With each cycle she "re-enter[s] the line" of mortality and then sublimes into the ocean once more.
Chadwick draws upon ancient myth and medieval balladry to chronicle man’s immortal quest for immortality. Opener "Second Son" is about royal succession, about scribes, painters, and priests who carry on the names of princes. "Days Away" deals with the resonation of language in time, the "notes you scratched on a branch" for posterity or a memory that "unfolds like a pocketed note."
This emphasis on lyrics isn’t superfluous. To ignore the words is to deny Chadwick’s role as chanter in a shamanistic world, a human voice threading between lives, ecosystems, and epochs. If she is the shaman, her music is the warped and mutant landscape. The seven mercurial minutes of "Second Son" will provide an apt master narrative for our account of the album as a whole. The song opens sparsely with ominous acoustic strumming interspersed with Greg Weeks’s "tropical guitar" (his words) as Chadwick cycles through a descending vocal melody. At around the ninety-second mark, new voices begin to align over hers, layers of cloud thickening. Then, about ten seconds later, a drum kicks in and Weeks revs up his electric guitar.
The first chorus peters out before the storm thickens and leads into another verse, this time with the addition of a string section arranged by Weeks. The next chorus hits harder and louder as Weeks’s lead guitar begins wailing in earnest. Finally, with two minutes remaining, the bottom drops out as a storm of glam-rock shatters the canopy of enchanted forest to reveal a circle of druids in Bowie T-shirts chanting toward the sky. As the layers of riffage build up, Weeks begins soloing over an incantation of oohs and aahs. The scene is a seance, and here is the ghost of rock ‘n’ roll.
The drama of the first half of The Door into Summer generally revolves around electric-guitar probing through a foliage of acoustic, strings, and chiming percussion. "The Crowning" opens with an eminently Black Sabbath riff on cello and a steady buildup of strings and cymbals. Halfway through, Weeks sends his caustic electric zipping in insectival lines of flight, noodling in and out of the lower registers only to blend at last into the reedy melody of a classic ARP synth.
In the fantastic "Dawn Comes for Us All," Chadwick branches off into prog-folk territory, her voice recalling the sinister bacchanalia of England’s Comus. The skittish melodies that weave throughout the song recall Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick, though "Days Away" more closely approximates the concept album, with its rapid tonal changes and drums that move from military cadence to Renaissance fare.
The second half of the album, starting with "Cedar," marks the dissipation of glam-rock guitars, their electricity now channeled into synthesized drones. Though electric guitar doesn’t completely vanish, it remains as a kind of a static net around the music reminiscent of Espers’s gloomy atmospherics. At other times, like in "Cedar," Weeks’s guitar work begins to recall the less warped and acerbic playing of Fairport Convention.
If the electronics of the album’s first half served to disrupt habitats and force strange evolutions, those of the second half empty into a primordial soup of acoustics — as if folk music had integrated the electric DNA of a virus. "Clouds? Or Smoke?" dances in bacchanalian contortions to a fascia of drones, both earthly and otherwise. Primeval drums carry the song through varying tempos and moods, throbbing in and out of that distinctly groovy and gothic dissonance mastered by Comus. "Wooden Sword" with tambourines and an impish vocal turn evokes a midsummer gloaming in a time when forests were the fathomless haunt of fairies and not political battlegrounds.
Ex Reverie is an exciting band to listen to. The Door into Summer is the kind of album that makes you impatient for the next one. Chadwick works in a timeless vocabulary of sounds and syllables, a language that welcomes the modern world into the bosom of nature. In this way it is a generous and boundless music for all its darkness. Ex Reverie’s debut would be an apt manifesto of Language of Stone’s sonic sensibilities as well as its distinctly tribal relation to the ethics and economics of music-making in the new millennium.