The first thing to hit you when cueing up the new Marielle Allschwang record is the noise. A distorted guitar. A rat-a-tat snare. A solitary cymbal. Could this possibly be the same Marielle Allschwang whose last album, 2015’s Dead Not Done, rarely rose above a whisper? It is indeed. And while the incredible VISITATIONS IV isn’t exactly a complete sonic overhaul, it is a record that demonstrates just how much Allschwang and her band (the Visitations, natch) have coalesced and solidified in the past few years. “It will all return to the center,” the singer chants on opener “Every Name.” This is a record of extreme focus, performed and realized by equally focused players.
VISITATIONS IV is also a record of echoes. The new “312: Year Of The Optical Fire” recalls the melody and sway of Dead Not Done‘s title track. “Be The Dirt” digs into the same old, weird, and elemental concerns that populated the previous album (“I want to be the dirt / I want to make it grow”). This time around, however, the full band (Nathaniel Heuer, Adam Krause, Kavi Laud, Ken Palme) provide each track with a sturdy framework that recalls Allschwang’s other post-rock-minded projects: the shuttered Group Of The Altos and the ever-changing Collections Of Colonies Of Bees.
That foundation is the product of a new way of working. In the album’s linear notes, Allschwang explains that “the band learned the songs, played them live, played them loud, and came to know the material backward and forward before ever stepping into the studio with engineer Jaime Hansen at the Chair Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.” When it came time to record, “it was together in one room, with their microphones bleeding into each other and not a metronome in sight.”
And yet for all the instrumental ornamentation, the highlight of the record is, once again, Allschwang herself. Her voice, forever haunting and wise, remains a wonder. It’s the lifeblood of the waltzing “Snowhive,” the mournful “Riches,” and the quietly powerful “How Can I Defend You.” It’s the vehicle for stunning/sad lyrics like “No one’s born a fool / They were teaching you / Now you’re a teacher too.” It’s the focus. It’s the center. It’s what everything revolves around, and what everything returns to.