Something Different: Food – “Mercurial Balm”


Food - "Mercurial Balm"Now this is what I’m talking about.

As I’ve mentioned both here on Bird is the Worm and other sites repeatedly, I am slow to wake in the morning.  I like to get up before the sun rises.  I like when daylight seeps over the town and reveals my neighborhood to me.  It’s my thing.  I like it.

I require peaceful music to start my day.  It doesn’t have to be jazz, just serene, with some drone and some sparks of life.  I don’t want it to put me back to sleep, but I also don’t want it shocking me to wakefulness.  Slow and easy.  Much of it can be described as ‘atmospheric.’

So much of the music out there that aims for the atmospheric vibe simply floats away insubstantially.  Many of the musicians who strive to make this music don’t seem to understand that the goal isn’t merely to create songs that possess the lightness of clouds, but to enhance those clouds with a presence that perpetually threatens rain.  Now, that rain can take the form of a light mist or lightning flashes and brief downpours, but still, something more than just floaty music that dissipates the moment it’s touched with a discerning ear.

Thomas Strønen and Iain Ballamy, the duo who lie at the heart of Food, don’t need any lessons from me on this issue.  Their newest release Mercurial Balm proves it in spades.

Your album personnel:  Thomas Strønen (drums, electronics), Iain Ballamy (saxophones, electronics), and guests:  Christian Fennesz (guitar, electronics), Prakash Sontakke (slide guitar, vocal), Eivind Aarset (guitar, electronics), and Nils Petter Molvaer (trumpet).

The album sets the right tone right from the start.  “Nebular” has Ballamy in a contemplative mood on sax and Stronen keeping an insistent but amicable approach on percussion.  It leads immediately into “Celestial Food,” which has Stronen amping up the rhythm a notch, but still keeping it something that crickets could sing to.  The rise of electronics becomes evident, and Ballamy takes to higher elevations.

“Ascending” begins with the drip and sizzle of electronics and oddly detached percussion… an ambiguous form of haunting that makes the rhythm seem sourceless and encompassing.  It creates a fascinating soundscape, and when Ballamy cuts through it with a transcendent saxophone section, it’s like a rising sun parting the evening mist at dawn.

“Phase” lies very still in wait, then pounces at the end with a wave of dissonance.

“Astral” has Fennesz’s fingerprints all over it.  A droning piece accentuated by some nifty percussion builds imperceptibly stronger until it suddenly bursts from the scenes with guitar distortion, explosive drumming, and a saxophone that’s hit the ignition switch.

“Moonpie” has got Molvaer guesting on trumpet.  It’s one of the quieter tracks.  It’s also one of the weaker ones.  There’s not much to it until Ballamy joins Molvaer, and together, the combination of their individual sounds makes for a nice contrast to Stronen’s spare percussion.  But things really take off after this.

Sontakke, who along with Fennesz, is an inspired choice for guest artist.  Sontakke takes over for three of the tracks that Fennesz sits out for, and it’s wonderful how those tracks take on a different presence but still mesh with the earlier, other tracks.  Sontakke’s voice rises up and over the rising surge of drums and electronics.  And on the title-track, his slide guitar brings a refreshing rustic edge to the buzzing electronics and the burning embers of Ballamy’s sax.

The album ends with the somersaulting electronics of “Galactic Roll.”  Had it appeared anywhere else on the album, it would’ve only been a minor curiosity, perhaps even an irritant.  But the entirely of the album tracks preceding it makes this almost the perfect way to send the album off.  There’s a composite of whimsy and contemplation to the frenetic percussion and electronics that just makes sense and provides a sensible satisfying conclusion to this fine album.

And like I said, you haven’t fully experienced this album until you’ve had it playing as the new day’s sun reveals your world to you.

Released on the ECM Records label.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3