Transmuting landscape into sound isn’t easy. It’s one thing to draw inspiration from your surroundings, but to really embody the ambience requires an alchemy almost too tricky to master. Ben Tausig wrote here about how Burning Star Core effectively addresses the psychological stresses inherent to space’s black void on Challenger. But where C. Spencer Yeh had the luxury of creating a soundscape for empty space, Slumberwood attempts to distill the dryadic power of their native Italian forests. Yawling Night Songs extracts nature’s many melodies, and cacophonies, to create a portrait of the heavily romanticized conception of an enchanted European woods as it exists for the youth of the 21st century.
The collective’s nocturnal odes derive their emotive force from the balance struck between ascendant, Godspeed!-style guitar lines and the frenetic primitivism such bands as Raccoo-oo-oon. Opener “Yahoo” is all spectacle with its majestic drone and haunted riffs, a lofty sermon on the future defaced by second track “Galline.” Tribal drums, damaged chord progressions, and incoherent ramblings rivaling Avey Tare argue that once we get our heads out of the clouds, the world is much more disordered than we’d like it to be.
What makes this schizophrenic fluctuation work, though, is how firmly Slumberwood is rooted in the present. There’s no nostalgia in beauty or anxiety for a post-apocalyptic future. Yawling Night Songs is a meditation on the possibilities of today – the good, the bad, and the hideously weird. For all the bizarre forays into psychedelia, weird folk, and instrumental rock, Slumberwood is most effective at their most simple. This makes the raucous bluesy romps of “Il Verme Solitario” and “The Bride Side” awkward inclusions on the album. While certainly fun, they’re so rooted in such a specific tradition, they distract from the sense of discovery permeating the other tracks.
“Thru Crop Fields” leaves behind all that city music for a little over five minutes of breathy, placeless wooden guitar. Skittish and dreamy through the first half, Enrico B’s power strumming ends the song with a clear statement on what a yawling night song really is. It’s a dramatic interpretation of the Italian woods’ ambience, one that leaves a pretty clear sense of what’s hiding in the shadows, waiting to be found.