It’s quite easy when you blog about music as a past time, to be swamped and lacking in spirit. It’s not that there is something wrong with the quality of the music, it is more about misplacing your Mojo and your batteries have run flat. My intent was to try to wrap up the June releases by the end of July, but there still is a skeletal draft post waiting for me. What I needed was something to listen to with the attention of just absorbing it and putting the mental to do list to one side for a moment. Then this release popped up in my inbox and provided just what I needed to relax and a bit of a kick up the bum. Awakened Souls is the Husband and Wife duo of James Bernard and Cynthia Field-Bernard. This is their third release following on from June’s “A Sense Of Return” and 2018’s self titled EP. Normally I open reviews with a press quote or a raison d’être, but this time I am opening with something that Cynthia mentioned in her opening email which struck a chord with me and offers up the authenticity of the project.
“We have a musical project called, Awakened Souls and are a husband and wife ambient duo. James Bernard (my husband) has been releasing ambient and electronic music since the mid-1990’s (Rising High Records) and most recently has releases with A Strangely Isolated Place and Past Inside the Present. We love sculpting meditative soundscapes and endlessly find ourselves in the creative process, making new songs as a way to find comfort and peace (we have 5 children ages 11-17 and this helps A LOT). We use layers of sound using guitars, pedals, synthesizers, field recordings and dreamy vocals and record it all in our bedroom studio. James produces and mixes the songs and plays bass, guitar and synthesizers and I play guitar and sing. Our hope is that our music can help people breathe a little deeper and be reminded of our ability to slow down, find gratitude and to get lost in the present moment.”
In much the same way that Andrew Klimek’s wife Angela aka Poemme’s music affects me, so to does “How We Heal”. The most identifiable quality or characteristic is the sheer lushness of the pieces. Apparently recorded in their bedroom/studio you would be hard pressed to find something more devastatingly beautiful as this six track collection – a note must be made of the mastering by Andrew J Klimek which helps illuminate the magic of the material. The music is the sort to delve deeply into and explore. Dynamic in it’s use of tones and contrasting sounds, this is not a one dimensional release. Naturally in a time like the one in which we are currently living through one of the focal points in people’s lives have been of a more inward period of self reflection. This could be about taking an inventory of their life, re-connecting with lost friends, repairing damage or identifying that what is gone is gone. One aspect of this time has been the move to meditate to bring a peace to the ever racing mind which can be accelerated by any stimulus whether they be good or bad. “How We Heal” is the type of work that can a soundtrack to this type of practice.
Over the course of six pieces and thirty one minutes, Awakened Souls create pieces that at no point wear put their welcome and encourage repeated listening. Drones lilt and synths throb with a feeling of warmth as captured on “Bodhichitta” which I take to be a reference to Bodhicitta which means “is a spontaneous wish to attain enlightenment motivated by great compassion for all sentient beings, accompanied by a falling away of the attachment to the illusion of an inherently existing self” and you can detect the compassion within the piece. The track that garners the most attention is “Paint The Sky” which Stereoscenic boss Klimek states “James was sending me all these amazing tracks the two of them were making during the lockdown. As I was trying to make selections and track orders, I asked if they had any vocal-centric songs. He dug up an older track—Paint the Sky—finalised the mix, and it’s really become the highlight of the album for me… with a powerful segue into the title track. This is definitely an album to be experienced from start to finish”. There is an angelic quality to Cynthia’s layered vocals that ties in nicely with the minimalist nature of the music and it’s subtle choices like fractured electronics, flowing melodies or bare piano lines. It is the type of piece that feels unaware of it’s powerful nature and for that reason it feels particularly special.
A darker dream pop meets drone feel exist on the title track and “Golden Buddha” with the latter existing in a small sonic space without a hint of claustrophobia. The final track “Citrus Sunset” is the longest of the release and is as pure a field recording enhanced piece of Ambient/Drone that you are likely to hear. The dissonance of the piece (presumably carved from guitar lines) feels as if it is radiating heat with an overall feeling of a piece which is encompassing a “comedown” feel, but also acknowledging the strain of the day passed. It nicely ends the album which opened with a more intense, rumbling track in “Sediment” that radiated heat and captured the listeners attention from the start.
“How We Heal” is another great Ambient release of this year, following on from Keys For The Eclipse’s “Downpour” and Havenaire’s “Movement”. With a musical history stretching back over a quarter of century Bernard has used all this knowledge and put it to good use. The secret weapon may just be Cynthia whose contributions help elevate the pieces that ever so slightly higher. “How We Heal” is available from Stereoscenic Digitally. It is very much a recommended listen.