On my first listen of Sonescent, I was sure my headphones were broken. I was so excited when a new Matchess album showed up in my inbox, that I jumped right in without reading a word about it. Anything Whitney Johnson touches is something worth hearing, and a new record from her Matchess project is always at the top of that heap. Once I went back and read some context about the album, the pieces came together and Sonescent began to make sense. This is music within ourselves; the sound and feeling of being in our own heads, looking simultaneously for calm and a way out.
Sonescent begins with a high-frequency tone on “Almost Gone” that quickly descends into a multilayered oscillating drone. Subtle shifts hint at the elegance to come as fragments of Johnson’s songs, performed by an incredible ensemble featuring the likes of Haley Fohr, Rob Frye, Tim Kinsella, and many others, fade into view. Even when the sonic veil is at its thinnest, there’s still only an opaque clarity to these pieces that is unsettling. Yet, it also leads to deeper contemplations on the nature of ourselves; on the trails untraveled that beckon.
Johnson’s a skilled songwriter, but even more than that she’s always had a focused, evolving vision. Sonescent is a major step into new territories and while it’s not entirely unfamiliar, it’s well out of her comfort zone. Like most memorable experiences, it’s the spaces between the endpoints that carry the most weight. On Sonescent this is the abstract connective tissue. What we hear of the more song-oriented pieces, obscured as they are, become important touchpoints, but our minds wander in between. Landscapes filled with stretched aural patterns and blurred arrangements become fodder for introspective illumination.
Many of the concepts of Sonescent came to Johnson during a retreat at Dhamma Vaddhana Vipassana Meditation Center in Joshua Tree. Unable to write anything down during her time at the center, she did so after the fact from memory. The way she presents this music through the fog reflects the experience from which they were born. I imagine if I heard the songs unobscured and in their entirety, I’d love them and they would make a great album. But Johnson goes so far beyond that with Sonescent, using these beautiful songs as a jumping-off point for a much deeper and richer experience.