In Gowan Ring

I promised earlier that I’d review some of my new music when I had time, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Which is probably just as well, since I haven’t listened to it all that much yet, and my opinions may develop and change over time. So instead, I’ll write a bit about a group I’ve known about for a couple of years, listened to a fair bit, and like tremendously.

In Gowan Ring is the musical endeavor of one man who calls himself B’eirth and lives, last I checked, in Portland, Oregon. When I try to explain what his music is like to friends, I get tangled up in a series of inadequate classifications. “It’s experimental new-agey psych-folk, kinda hippie-ish and meditative…” and then I realize that what I’ve just said simply does not do the music justice. Yes, it’s experimental, but much of it (especially Hazel Steps Through a Weathered Home) is eminently accessible. You definitely don’t have to be stoned to enjoy or understand it. The best way to get a handle on what it is is to just listen to some.

One thing that makes In Gowan Ring’s style unique is the way B’eirth articulates everything, in a way that never sounds forced but makes the lyrics totally understandable. I think the songs on Hazel Steps are the only ones I’ve ever learned without having to look up the lyrics online. The understated vocals and subtle percussion add a dark, yet lively consonantal layer to the pieces that reminds me of the opening to Animal Collective‘s Banshee Beat. Just because you can hear the words doesn’t mean the lyrics are perfectly transparent, though; B’eirth isn’t afraid to use words like “numinous” and “coruscation,” both of which I had to look up. And once you get past the arcane and sometimes archaic words, you find that the lyrics don’t tell a story as much as express a mood – and these moody pictures the music paints are very complex and layered.

As for the songwriting, it sticks pretty solidly to the verse-chorus-verse-(chorus-verse-chorus-verse-chorus) structure. There are often overlapping vocal lines and harmonies that add interest, though. Some of the songs (e.g. Kingdom of the Shades, Hazel Steps) get repetitive, but weirdly, the more you listen to them, the less tedious they become. And that might be because the music itself is so hard to pay attention to, since it keeps conjuring up these wild images of medieval towns and clay walls and rivers and sticks and sunlight.

Not the best if you’re a death metal fanatic, or if you only like happy, bouncy music. But if you’re in the mood for quiet introspection, or maybe some tea, try this.

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