Bryce Dessner – St. Carolyn By the Sea

Coming off the stellar recording Aheym with the Kronos Quartet, The National’s Bryce Dessner quickly follows it up with an ambitious but ultimately mediocre collection of orchestral works.

The vision and dream is there for the self-titled piece off the record, ultimately the strongest of Dessner’s three compositions.  Raging for thirteen minutes, the opening composition is a bounty full of high-energy strings and passively aggressive flutes that takes more of a liking to more cinematic features of epic proportions.  Bryce and his twin brother Aaron’s guitars intermittently appear on the piece using more rhythmic delay methods, causing a very attractive, isolated ambient effect.  Dessner in all his creative prowless is top notch here, as St. Carolyn by the Sea is relentless and incredibly powerful in imagination.  The opening composition’s continuously peaking narrative is gripping in its allure and ultimately shows the orchestral style that Dessner is best at.

While St. Carolyn by the Sea is splendid and vivid in its imagery, the rest of Dessner’s compositions drag with a never-ending race of chasing strings.

“Lachrimae” starts aptly alluring enough but eventually becomes more of a drawn-out and overstretched length of soaring strings to no true appeasing point.  Eventually, while the adrenaline never stops and the fast-intensity of strings remains firm, the sense of a melodic touch is completely lost.  “Lachrimae”  is too much, too soon with no true direction.  Everyone loves a car chase scene but make it too long and it starts to get boring and in the case of  “Lachrimae,” it  gets boring real quick.

Dessner’s final composition “Raphael” again starts innocently enough but opposite from the case of “Lachrimae,” the momentum is more subdued and downplayed.  And again in contrast to the never-ending chase of “Lachrimae,”  “Raphael” is more a straight forward monotone movement – a very long guessing game of what’s next.  Quite frankly, the mystic and Fantasia-esque winds of “Raphael” wear out fast and the incredibly long gasps for peak gets old real fast.  It’s not a matter of taste, but the dullness behind “Raphael,” even by the time Dessner’s refreshingly ambient guitar comes in, is too much of a buzzkill.   “Raphael” eventually pans out to bring more energy toward its latter half but the exhaustive opening minutes doesn’t really give a chance for the composition to round out on an average level.

The record also includes Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead’s full Suite from the film There Will Be Blood.  If you heard it before and you’re a fan, then the more complete, extended version will ultimately be your buying point for this record.  But for everyone else, it’s not  not all that memorable to have warranted inclusion on this record. Evaluating simply just the new works from Dessner however, with the exception of the stellar title piece, there’s not much to be excited about.


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