The career of Seattle’s Mammifer has thus far been a gradual step from darkness into the light – the sinister drone, understated doom and downtempo minimalism of the project’s early work gradually replaced by tender post-rock atmospherics and the rustic charm of ethereal folk. The Brilliant Tabernacle is perhaps the biggest leap in this process, as Faith Coloccia dives headfirst into serene songs powered primarily by her soaring vocals and delicate pianowork.
Seemingly inspired by her becoming a mother, the prevalence of which is perhaps elevated by Coloccia’s long-term collaborations with husband Aaron Turner (Isis, SUMAC), there’s a lullaby-like soothing quality to many of these tracks, and an intimacy often lacking from such atmospherically-inclined material. Any hints of melancholy are understated, often lingering in the background, in the expressive strings of ‘To Be Seen’ or the momentary burst of electric guitar that closes out opener ‘All That Is Beautiful’. Even when the building percussion of ‘So That The Heart May Be Known’ initially seems to be heading towards despair, the track is soon elevated once more by Coloccia’s resplendent vocals. Elsewhere, ‘So That The Heart May Be Known’ is a stripped-back harmonic incantation, with touches of old world folk merging with minimalist compositions to masterful effect.
No longer earning the former part of the “dark ambient” label, Turner’s proclivity for distortion is less apparent and much less hostile here, and as incandescent atmospherics radiate down with gentle warmth over songs about natural beauty, birth, baptism and love, it’s easy to wonder whether religion was an inspiration. Delving further in, though, reveals that this is a record grappling with spiritual questions without touching on a singular approach to divinity. It is a record imbued with grander themes, open to holiness and yet unsullied by specific religious dogma. Perhaps then it is to be viewed as a guiding light, designed for Coloccia’s son but applicable to the world at large – a record that touches on spirituality without supporting one right answer; that hints at the world’s natural beauty just as we may be about to lose it; that radiates hope at a time when positivity is hard to come by. It is an empowering listen, supportive in its vulnerability and optimistic in its message of love.
The Brilliant Tabernacle is out now on SIGE Records. Order here.
Photo: Paulo Gonzales
Words: George Parr