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Sand Snowman: The World's Not Worth It

img  Tobias Fischer

If The World's Not Worth It is a riddle, then its artwork is the veil which needs to be lifted to solve it. On the front cover, a man, apparently lost in reverie, is gazing dreamily through a window - to a part of the setting which remains hidden to the outside observer. It takes a moment or two to understand the in-joke at work here: The person sitting stately by the window is not, as would appear most likely, Gavan Kearney, who has worked under the Sand Snowman moniker for the past four years. It is designer Carl Glover, who signed responsible for the visuals to Kearney's previous full-length Two Way Mirror. The designer as a model and the musician as a painter make for a sweet paradox, further compounded by the photograph on the flipside: Depicting the exact same scene, Glover has now left the canvas and taken his position behind the camera, leaving nothing but the photograph of an empty chair in front of an old cupboard. As trivial as these pictures may appear, their combination creates a ghostly tension, as if one were crossing from tangible spheres into the realms of the imaginary, metaphysical and alchemical. The actual LP is physically located precisely in between these poles, pointing at the function of music in the Sand Snowman cosmos: Forever the perfect medium through which to communicate the incommunicable, it delineates a space where affective, philosophical and even 'objective' opposites are nullified.

This idea of a dialogue between the factual and fantastical has always been vital in Kearney's oeuvre. But on his latest release, it has become more pronounced than ever before. Like its predecessor, the work is made up of two albums which work both as stand-alone entities and an interrelated suite. On the one hand, there are the seven songs of The World's not Worth it, on which long-time partner Moonswift as well as Amandine Ferrari of Eden House are contributing whispered vocals, The Use of Ashes' Maarten Scherrenburg adds the occasional drum shuffle and Demian Castellanos performs a completely otherworldly clarinet solo. Steven Wilson guests on „A Life Rehearsed“, possibly the most immediate and hideously catchy piece of music ever released under the Sand Snowman banner and a good indication for the direction The World's not Worth has taken in general: Melodic lines have turned more concrete, harmonies less hazy, the general sound feeling more transparent than on Two-Way Mirror. And yet, the tone of the album is that of a peaceful daze, recreating, in a sense, the sensations of bliss, calm and dream of Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune.

On the other hand, there's the accompanying Vanished Chapters, an instrumental concerto foraging through jazz, funk, classical music, ambient and psychedelic folk. Probably because of its abstinence from lyrics and its epically stretched-out arrangements, on which themes are running through long cycles of development before coming full circle again, Kearney has defined The World's Not Worth It as an „outer“ work for a wider audience and Chapters as an „inner“ work intended for the initiated. But it would come as no surprise if he secretly regarded the latter as the main opus and the former as its companion piece.

Their stylistic and conceptual differences aside, meanwhile, both albums are intricately connected in terms of songwriting and composition. Over the course of six albums, Kearney has mastered a technique which one might refer to as the „psychological sonata form“: Long, instrumental and hypnotic trips into the artist's subconscious are bracketed by passages of hands-on motives and the reassuring voices of what appear to be human beings. Of course, even these moments have their hidden trapdoors, as on „Under the Stares“, an outwardly peaceful springboard for terrifying visions: „Safe and small, crawled under the stairs/ monsters bawl, man-size tempers flare/ Thunder above, storm-scattered love/ Lost in dark and dust“. But at least, these words are capable of pointing the finger at the cause of distress, of naming and describing the horror. The instrumental stream-of-consciousness-movements, in contrast, circle their fears like a man obsessed, going through the same scene over and over again – only to find resolution when the return of the opening section in the last bars of the track identifies these processes as mere tricks of the mind.

On previous efforts, the moment when the music would segue from one reality into the next was mostly fairly obvious: Structures would suddenly disintegrate and arrangements crumble, formerly cohesive lines shatter into loose threads without foundation nor destination. There was something strangely reassuring about this: Reality may have momentarily lost its footing, but it was always restored in the end. On The World's not Worth it, however, transitions are far more subtle, contrasts more refined, polarities less distinct. Where does reality end and the dream begin? Are the brackets still within the limits described by the album or are they, just like the landscape observed by Glover on the cover, outside of its frame? Not only have these questions become increasingly harder, it actually appears that Kearney does not want to discuss them in a context where they can be fully answered at all. Just like The World's not Worth it and Vanished Chapters merge into a continuum, his  oeuvre is mapping out a landscape in which every piece of the puzzle seems to be connected to the others in myriads of mysterious ways – and where there no longer can be a single „correct“ path even if the artist wanted to.

Of course, in a Kant'ean way, the world's what we make it anyway. To appreciate the full depth of The World's Not Worth it, you can not remain a bystander, but need to step into the canvas. The inner cover of the album depicts a beautiful day at the beach, with people enjoying themselves, taking a walk or playing with their dogs. Slowly walk towards them or keep your distance? The choice is yours.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Sand Snowman
Homepage: Tonefloat Records

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