Each time I’ve listened to Matthew Himes’ latest, Cassiope: Protection Songs for Guitar, I can feel dirt from a million years settle on my skin. Himes quietly lit up the world on last year’s lovely Hemlock & Bergamot and that hushed spirit coils through Cassiope. These are songs for the sweet aromas of a summer sunset and for the fires burning in the deep midwinter. Himes catches the cadence of a drifting cosmic wave and settles into the space from which spells are cast.
While Himes’ guitar playing style is, at times, reminiscent of many of my favorites – Ben Chasny, early Wooden Wand, and generally the generation of pickers that lived for those Time-Lag Records newsletters – he always circumnavigates the astral plane at his own speed, in his own way. “Argus” is slow and methodical. Each loop of the main riff is another trip around the sun, lilting leads catching every last bit of light before settling in to sleep in the diamond caverns of “Pedicel.” Here he equips a nylon-string guitar to soften the edge as we float within the soft currents. It cleanses and lifts us back into the early kisses of morning aloft on dust clouds. There’s a lifetime of still memories packed into a few languid minutes.
Cassiope carries a lot of energy without ever blasting it across the divide. Himes picks his notes and pathways with great care, letting strings resonate for a little longer than expected to leave their mark. “Seia” howls with restraint, the rising arrangement snaking toward the pinnacle where stars gleam in their cradle. It’s the sound of a cosmos in flux, never resting but moving forward with methodic caution. “Delphinium” aches with lifetimes lost all while pushing into an unknown where the reflective chord progressions beckon us to breathe deep and let the sacred essences around us breathe.
I keep returning to the lush opener, “Baptisia,” and thinking about the long arc this music makes as it meanders through familiar terrain, looking for lost memories left behind. Himes is dialed in to something greater than himself on Cassiope and as he channels those gracious waves, he wants to share them with anyone who will listen.