It's rare that describing music "kaleidoscopic" actually checks out. Still, in the case of "Fools Harp Vol.1", the debut album from Fools, the solo project of Grizzly Bear drummer and multi-instrumentalist Christopher Bear, it rings true - or tolls even - like a bell.
Frustrated with the formal limitations of traditional songwriting structure, and the received conceptual frameworks that often hang around albums, Christopher set aside six weeks in 2019 and spent them experimenting with improvisation and response for creativity's sake. This meant jamming out and recording with one instrument, before improvising over it in response on a different instrument and then repeating the process, sometimes digitally, sometimes with a 4-track recorder. In the process, he came up with nine deeply interconnected, expansive and curious pieces of music with increasingly esoteric titles, beginning with "Rintocco" (Italian for toll, as in tolling of the bell) and ending with "Dolpherede" (probably a made-up word? Maybe a word from another dimension).
If you were going to look for a central theme (or themes) with "Fools Harp Vol.1" it would probably relate to the idea of music as an interior world, or a window from this world into another - a slightly adjacent set of possibilities, you can't see them, but it's easy to imagine almost glimpsing them out of the corner of your eye. With this, by way of wind-up music box style melodies, bells and chimes, comes a strong sense of nostalgia. We're talking the idea of the past as a place of softer, more carefree times, but chances are, when you examine your thoughts, what you're remembering is the half-forgotten memory of a childhood dream bleeding to the half-awake memory of an actual event. Musicians have been circling these ideas for a long time, but on tracks like "Rintocco" and "Deefyfe" Christopher conjures up some particularly compelling acts of memory fog imagineering.
That said, if you're going to turn the clock backwards while watching the hands melt off the face, you need to look forward as well. I'm not sure how often music pursuing futurism really accomplishes much more than retrofuturism these days, and I wonder whether then people aim for a futuristic aesthetic, they might be better off just approximating a sleek utopian vision.
Regardless, on synthesizer-heavy tracks like "Metaqua" and "Nnuunn", Christoper does as good a job as any at evoking the futures of science fiction/sci-fi as we once envisioned them. Space is important here because when you start thinking about kaleidoscopics, it becomes easy to make the jump over to the celestial, as best understood by the rotation of planets around the sun, and moons around those planets. A solar system of movements within movements, and a quick analogy for the interlinked but distinct compositional elements that bring so much life, character and vibrancy to the deeply blissful, beautiful and detailed music that makes up "Fools Harp Vol.1".
It's a special one, and you can listen to some Soundcloud samples below.
Fools Harp Vol.1 is due for release through Music From Memory in LP, digital and cassette formats on May 18. The cassette version includes several special bonus tracks. You can pre-order it (here)