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LP Feature/ Sand Snowman: "I'm not Here"; "The Twilight Game"

img  Tobias

Even as the over-analytical 21st century rational men and women that we are, many of us secretely foster a desire for the age of miracles and fairytales to return. This yearning extends well beyond „The Lord of the Rings“ and the hundreds of millions of fantasy books being sold each year. What cynics and critics all too quickly deride as escapism is, in reality, a deeply felt wish to be one with nature again, to feel an integral part of an environment instead of merely fulfilling a clearly circumscribed role within a static corset of demands and rules. While cinema has wholeheartedly embraced these desires in a slew of megalomaniac multipart productions over the past few years, the music scene has either been slow to react or leaft the topos of nature to genres like Black Metal, whose vision of romance somewhat conflicted with the pronounced notion of harmony and the political ideals of early psychedelia.

Musical one-man project Sand Snowman can therefore not only be regarded as a reaction to the lightning speed changes of the internet age (especially as its headquarters are situated in one of its neural nodes, London) but also to the blatant lack of composers capable of coming up with convincing propositions in this context. On the other hand, the unhurried tempo of his releases as well as their sobre medial presentation bypass the usual hectic schedules and marketing schemes of the business, making an alternative explanation seem even more probable: That „Sand“ is simply a romantic who lives in a world of his own and cares more for the beauty of the narrow sideways than for the grandezza of the majestic mainstreets.

The direction he has taken on his first three full-lengths supports this theory: Sand Snowman albums are delicate acoustic epics between folk and brittle progressive rock, filled with a plethora of gently strummed Acoustic Guitars and instruments like Mandolins, Sitars and Xylophones. Angelic female singers with ephemeral, breathy timbres will come to the studio to lend their voices to softly layered polyphonic arrangements, which Sand has carefully laid down in great detail prior to their arrival. The prominent use of a small-scale Recorder ensemble lends an otherwordly mediaeval touch to the production, while subtle electronic manipulations and inventive interlacing of thematic material occasionally stretch tracks to more than ten minutes. Verse and chorus, meanwhile, are replaced by the supremacy of the flow and by melodies gently repeating themselves in search of a sweet, intoxiating trance.

After two small, but lovingly designed print runs of „I'm not here“ and „The Twilight Game“ sold out in no time on CD, the Vinyl reissue of these albums serves a double purpose: Making them available again and presenting the oeuvre of Sand Snowman in the format which undoubtedly suits it best. Just pull out the full colour covers from their protective sleeves of nicely rough brown cardboard and you can virtually get lost in the branches, twigs and leaves of its tree imagery for hours. The music on „I'm not here“ is of an equally ephemeral and dream-like quality: A core motive connects these tracks of mellow delirum and sensual shyness and softly guides the listener through a labyrinth of sympathetically spaced-out songs. The flipside, with its long stretches of atmospheric instrumentals, sudden moments of groovy percussion work and classic motivic development is like a mirror image of the opening section with its hushed, subdued approach – but it, too, eschews silent persuasion over strident tones: The last minutes of the album are entirely consumed by a warm Guitar loop seamlessly fading into the lead-out groove.

If its predecessor did its best to disappear completey, „The Twilight Game“ may still be quiet, but comes across as the more tangible of the pair. On a first listen, that is. The opening quartet of songs still has an approachable edgeand a fragile catchiness to it, which contrasts nicely with their otherwhise demure and oblivious charm. The inclusion of male vocals by a certain Jerome adds an eartly timbre to the ethereal female energy of Nyx and Moonswift, while the sparse arrangements focus all attention on melody and harmony. Already in the early stages of the album, a hazy sense of divertedness is beginning to manifest itself, as if the action were taking place behind space-warping screens of milky glass. In the second half, filled with fantasies about „Ether Eyes“ and a „Spider by Moonlight“ this notion takes over completely: A slide guitar ascends into the sky, the Piano paints palpatating patterns onto the canvas of the night and the plaintive tremolo of a heartbroken Mandolin sets a sea of emotions on fire.

Both albums rely strongly on that deciding moment when the instruments take over from the players and when the compositions appear to be leaving the world of men to explore the realms of magic and imagination. It is in these instances that the music of Sand Snowman sublimates from what many will simply refer to „pieces in the tradition of Syd Barret and the Incredible String Band“ to a musical wonderland. The solidity of song structures falls apart and the listener suddenly needs to find his own way through the beautiful maze that has taken their place. That may be a scary thought to some. But to many, the idea of entering a space of fairytales and miracles must seem like the fulfillment of a desire they'd already considered unquenchable for far too long.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Sand Snowman at Myspace
Homepage: Tonefloat Records

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