The concentric black circles printed over a cream-colored background on Colleen’s The Golden Morning Breaks have staggered black spaces between them. It makes the overall appearance one of an antique disc from a music box rather than a digitally encoded piece of polyurethane. Once the music begins, the placid guitar and mandolin melodies intermingled with glockenspiel and strings throughout the album’s ten tracks complete the picture: This is music from another time.
Inspired by the sixteenth-century lute and counter-tenor compositions of English composer John Dowland (whose work provides Colleen’s album title), the Parisienne otherwise known as Cécile Schott has opted for organic rather than electronic instrumentation on her sophomore effort. The pleasantly repetitive, reverberated tone of her 2003 debut, Everyone Alive Wants Answers, lives on in this release from the very first track, with its pizzicato guitar contrasted against sustained strings. From the moment the first melodic line is looped and set against solid backdrops of varying string tones, the warmth of this modern-day fairy music lulled me into a content listening session.
With a nautical theme inherent in the album’s song titles, it’s easy to project the image of sunsets on ripples of water while listening to Colleen’s soundscapes. “The Happy Sea” relies on a mechanical pipe organ, probably sampled, with delayed filtering to create the effect of waves while dreary notes reminiscent of a high-pitched foghorn bleat miserably from beyond the navigator’s view. Tracks such as this one and several others on the album play with percussive sounds contrasted against contemplative melodies for a sound at once mysterious and sea-shanty-like.
Half-way through the album, “I’ll Read You a Story” breaks the mold with two percussive instruments in an initially chaotic composition. It eventually finds its way through reverb and reversed glockenspiel, layered with a collection of other sounds that become unified in their direction and then take separate courses by the track’s conclusion.
With The Golden Morning Breaks, Colleen creates a consistent and enjoyable sound while toying with structure in an academic way. By the time she arrives at the album’s crescendo, “Bubbles Which on the Water Swim,” she has revealed a course she is charting through a rainy afternoon. Carrying the drone of layered keyboard sounds only so far, the track suddenly breaks down into a lacey structure of guitar arpeggios that again shift the mood to one of contemplative wonder. When finally some recorded raindrops arrive in “Mining in the Rain,” it feels as if the clouds have opened up late in the afternoon of a humid summer day. This leaves a clear sky for the final two tracks, the last one being a thought-provoking, nearly-eleven-minute farewell in “Everything Lay Still.” It left me longing to cross the ocean to hear more from Colleen.