The Birds of Passage project is essentially the work of New Zealand based Alicia Merz, and the album “Winter Lady”, the latest release on Denovali Recordings. From the delicate opening waves of “Fatal Melody” the listener is transported to an ethereal playground, consisting of vocals which are of such aching fragility, and droplets of sound that are carefully tantalising and mournful. For the listener who is prepared to pay attention and afford this music the time and space it deserves, the rewards are plentiful, and the emotions cathartic.
“Highwaymen in Midnight Masks” continues to hold the listener in that space, and soothes their troubles aside with some of the most poetic and disarming lyrics that could be layered upon such a luscious soundscape. The production of the album is painstakingly attentive to the various elements that build this landscape and give the impression that the vocals are being gently whispered intimately into the ear of the listener. The “Hollow” track leaves this reviewer at least, with feelings of melancholy and elation in equal measure, a feat which takes considerable skill and courage to attain. The line between acoustic instrumentation and electronically produced sound is blurred, and goes some way to add another level to the music on the album. Far back in the mix one can occasionally make out the delicate piano lines, which help to ground these pieces into something organic in nature amongst the swathes of electronics.
It may be argued that the compositions that go to make up this release from Birds of Passage are of one level and intensity alone, with little in the way of deviation from that format. Such criticism is redundant however when describing the work as a whole and the atmosphere that is being striven for. “Winter Lady”, as a coherent piece of work, is beyond simply calming the listener and transporting them to a state of extreme relaxation it facilitates another level of perception for the listener to use as a tool to take away. As “Waltz While We Sleep” fades into the ether we are left exploring our own frames of reference. Music of this level of intimacy and disclosure, to work effectively, requires a certain level of restraint and consideration. “Winter Lady” has restraint and contemplation running through its very soul and on that basis should be regarded as a benchmark for other artists exploring deliberation as a musical template.