Spirit Photographs, aptly named, is an album of sonic photographs, depicting Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s 5 stages of grief, through 5 grand, dramatic, haunting, and exquisitely written masterpieces of boundary-defying music.
The Toronto-based multi-instrumentalist and interdisciplinary artist Gillian Stone is truly hard to describe. A sensitive soul and an immersive musician, her music crosses the lines between folk, ambience, experimental, and indie music with exceptional fluidity and ease. Teaming up with Michael Peter Olsen for co-production purposes, whose relationship with the artist has been described by herself as symbiotic. And it shows. This album is beautifully executed, perfectly focused, bold, and full of intricate musical ideas that hint at a fully cooperative relation between everyone involved.
June is Denial. The first stage. Grand Folk, the characterful guitar chords hammer away with a minimal bass. A dramatic, imposing composition that blurs the lines of tonality, becoming a sensation of its own definition. Sublime vocal hooks, devastating lyricisms, and a vast, airy atmosphere. The production is crystal clean, and the direction is set in concrete. At zero points during the whole album did I get a single hint that the songs were torn between directions or were meant to please everybody. June is grand, contemplative, and endlessly charismatic. Anger is ‘Amends’. The anger in amends is not loud or thrashing. It burns deep, feels helpless, and propels the sound from the understated beginnings on to a massive crescendo of sound. The hypnotic guitar arrangement, and Gillian’s silken delivery and nuanced vocal orchestration will draw favorable comparisons to the amazing Julia Holter. Floating among looming clouds, the true storm sets in with the perfected caveman drums of Spencer Cole (The Weather Station) as a crushing crescendo comes banging in the last quarter of the piece.
Raven’s Song is the stage of Bargaining. Eerie, memorable, mystical, and tribal. Raven’s Song’s lyrics are harrowing, and the scene is set by a deep, looming bass, and Gillian’s haunting delivery. The tribal percussion cements this song’s bold approach and elevates it to experimental greatness. Making it this far into the album, I was met by the familiar Geezer Butler bassline from Solitude, dressed up and made different enough for Gillian’s remarkable cover of this Black Sabbath classic. Symbolizing the 4th stage of grief, Depression, this song lulls and treads heavily in a familiar fashion. An iconic song, and a perfectly fitting choice. Acceptance is delivered via my favorite offering on the record. The Throne. A stunning closer. More hypnotic guitar arrangements and a deeply charismatic composition, made whole by a minimal, foreboding bass part in the first half of this gorgeous piece. The second half is out of this world. As the drums kick in with an uber tight groove, acceptance is truly felt as the figurative clouds part, revealing a bright, burning sun. The arrangement builds in a breathtaking riff that spirals upward, as the background fills up with noise, and life returns to its normal pace. The closing moments are some of the most memorable closing moments of an album in recent memory. Sent intense shivers down my spine.
Gillian Stone’s Spirit Photographs is a delightfully dark sonic painting, with a composed and restrained palette, and a delicate artist’s strokes. Haunting songs and singing, fluid and masterful musicianship, intricate and characterful production, there’s very little that this album doesn’t have. A nuanced piece of art that will remain in my memory for time to come.