Paeans by Aarktica (Review)

Aarktica’s eleventh album is characterized by a peaceful, contemplative interplay between guitar, cello, and viola.
Paeans - Aarktica

The title of Aarktica’s latest album refers to songs of praise or triumph. That might lead one to think that these six instrumentals are loud and bombastic in nature. Of course, if you’ve been following Jon DeRosa’s music at all over the last twenty-odd years, then you’d know that’s most likely not the case. His drone-oriented compositions under the Aarktica moniker can certainly be powerful and overwhelming — I still remember the first time I heard 2000’s No Solace In Sleep, and just how harrowing it was — but bombastic or over-the-top? Never.

Still, there is something triumphant about “Morning Chorus,” even with its sedate and contemplative nature. Or perhaps because of it. For nine-and-a-half minutes, DeRosa’s swelling drones and shimmering notes — around which Henrik Meierkord’s string arrangements drift and swirl — create a mood of supreme peace, the perfect mindset with which to greet the dawning sun as it breaks over the horizon. Although “Morning Chorus” contains no field recordings of any kind, you can practically hear nature welcoming (praising, even) a new day full of promise and possibility. (DeRosa’s training in somatic healing and therapy undoubtedly influenced the mood here.)

Indeed, all of Paeans’ 42 minutes tap into a similar vibe, sonically and aesthetically, thanks to the gentle-yet-deliberate interplay between DeRosa’s guitar and Meierkord’s cello and viola à la Stars of the Lid and A Winged Victory for the Sullen.

The aptly titled “Golden Hour at Pyramid House” conjures up a similarly contemplative mood that pairs well with the album’s cover photo, which depicts a wooded area glimpsed through a window, the entire scene suffused with warm, golden light. As per its title, “Elegiac” adopts a slightly darker tone. One that’s well-suited to an evening spent flipping through dusty old photos and mementos, particularly when DeRosa wrings a few well-placed melodic fragments from his six-string.

Aarktica has certainly come a long way since No Solace In Sleep, with a catalog that now contains eleven albums plus numerous EPs, collaborations, and compilation appearances. (And that’s to say nothing of DeRosa’s other musical projects, including Dead Leaves Rising and Pale Horse and Rider.) While reviewing Paeans, I gave No Solace In Sleep a spin, if only to gain a bit more context for DeRosa’s latest. Aarktica’s debut remains a good deal more ominous and intense on songs like “The Ice (Feels Three Feet Thick Between Us)” and “I Remember Life Above the Surface.”

That makes it an interesting sonic counterpart for Paeans, and serves as proof that DeRosa’s knack for creating emotional soundscapes has not diminished one bit during the intervening years.

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