William Ryan Fritch: Revisionist
Familiarity breeds contempt, or so the saying goes, but that's hardly true in the case of William Ryan Fritch (aka Vieo Abiungo), whose 2014 was far more prolific than most. During that time, he collaborated with drummer/composer Jon Mueller on the Death Blues release Ensemble and issued a staggering amount of new material under his own name, including the Heavy and Empty EPs. Perhaps emboldened and energized by the experience of working with Mueller, Fritch perpetuates the collaborative spirit of that project by bringing a number of guests on board Revisionist, his first formal release of the new year. That in itself constitutes a development in Fritch's creative approach, considering how much of his previous material was created entirely by the multi-instrumentalist himself.
As per the title, the album's theme has to do with revisionism, specifically, how (in Fritch's estimation) “we forget evil, distort it, skim past it, papering over those aspects of history we find uncomfortable.” Benoit Pioulard, D.M. Stith, Origamibiro, and Esme Patterson join him in exploring the theme and its ramifications on this oft-hypnotic, forty-three-minute collection. One thing worth clarifying at the outset is that Revisionist is to a large degree a song-based album that naturally situates Fritch's distinctive voice, an ear-catching instrument that undulates in tandem with the slow, dream-like flow of the music, at the forefront. Music continues to pour forth from him with no apparent drop in quality, and the level of craft evidenced by the new material is high. That he's been able to maintain that level throughout this concentrated abundance of releases is in itself something remarkable.
Kicking things off, “In Denial” emerges from a swirling fog of strings and ethereal noises before ceding the spotlight to Fritch's plaintive croon, pitched so high it borders on falsetto. In this fine scene-setter, the music's haunting character is strengthened by the slow-motion lilt of its rhythms and its haunting acoustic design. Instrumentally the dramatic title piece proves to be even more kaleidoscopic than the opener, the emphasis this time not on vocals but on swelling masses of drums, guitars, and strings.
Like “In Denial,” “Winds” (co-written with Benoit Pioulard) locates itself in a higher register where Fritch's voice quivers amidst a haze of muffled harmonies and elegiac strings. During the brief “Heavy,” his singing is presented more nakedly, accompanied in this case with a pounding drum pattern that makes the song resemble an Ensemble out-take, and in a rare move, the vocal presentation in the woodwinds-rich, shanty-styled “Gloaming Light” is augmented by D.M. Stith's voice, which in certain moments calls to mind Peter Gabriel's.
The grandiose closer “Still” is buoyed by the vocal purity of Patterson's expressive outpouring, which Fritch wraps in a towering sea of strings, drums, and woodwinds. By sequencing Revisionist so that “Still” appears at its end, he accentuates the expansive dimension a guest such as she brings to the album; certainly the presence of collaborators enlivens Fritch's music in a new and not unwelcome manner. If anything, he might be wise to not only continue the collaborative approach on his next release but maybe even allow it to play a greater role.