Joshua Van Tassel – Dance Music Volume II: More Songs For Slow Motion (2020)

I was in Scotland a few weeks ago, tucked away in some quiet corner of the Cairngorms, away from the world, away from the pandemic, away from everything. I needed it desperately, the opportunity to fuck off out of the house and put distance between me and work and people and the constant restlessness, to live some brief moment of my life just moving with the flow. An adherent to the whims of nothing but myself and the weather, sucking up the fresh air, being a part of the landscape.

The world we live in moves too fast and seems to have no concept of patience. Instant messages demand response, calendars demand schedules, the internet demands new content. There’s no space for slowness, no time for reflection, and it creates the worst of us.

More Songs For Slow Motion, like many of Van Tassel’s contemporaries on this side of the musical grid, recognises and embraces these sentiments. It flirts between two sides; the first primarily is lamentation, a loosely defined melancholia that haunts most of the pieces here with loss and hollowness. The other is the brief moments of reprieve and glowing love and light in counterpoint, preciousness in short supply.

As opener “Muttering Spells” elucidates, there’s a feeling here of the need for magic, of the absence of something special and the craving yearning for the slow and lovely again. The rare Ondea instrument marks its entrance here with its lilting and pained synthetic tones painting uncomfortable spaces that fill with complementary strings in a brief visitation of the sullenly ethereal. It does exist as something of an outlier though, as its spellcasting affects something in sophomore “Conjuror-er”.

Here motion begins to grow, space starts to form, cinematic beginnings giving birth to hopeful heights as lush wellsprings of strings rise up amidst the flickering glow of propulsive electronic arpeggiation. Less slow-motion and more full-speed it rushes fit to burst with dynamism, but its enthusiasm is unsustainable and it spends several closing minutes lost in the slump of afterglow, the moments of distance and stillness all too short.

With the hollow, glassy-eyed followups of “Their Love Was Alive Before They Were Dead” and specious “Eternal Turtle”, it feels like the light is out of reach, ne’er to return. That is until “Shadows Smile For You” comes around with its ultra-delicate Ondean twinklings and airy drones. Possibility dawns and fragile hope blossoms, withdrawing to all but the most careful synth swells at its conclusion, afraid of breaking the magic of the moment.

With the piano evocations of “Their Hands on Their Hands” laying further groundwork in intimacy, the album very much peaks in the beautiful heights of “Nest of Light”. Calm Ondea textures set the palette, sweetly coexisting with the rising violins and soft piano. No one voice speaks above the rest, the piece simply blooming with radiance at its own pace. Its nadir only sparks passion, its sweet embraces densifying into surging drone energies that flood the senses with brief but overwhelming love.

I know a lot of people that seem to be unable to exist without some form of distraction, whether that be music or a phone, living life always with one degree of separation from the world. When we start to take these things away, we start to engage in a greater level of intimacy with the things around us, the landscape, wildlife, people. It can be uncomfortable to face the prospect of spending time with one’s self, of reducing focus down to one task or one person at a time, to devote ourselves more singularly and more patiently, but you reap what you sow. More measured thoughts, more considered actions, deeper bonds: that’s the key to Songs For Slow Motion.