Review: Old Fire Heats Ups Celestial Soundscape

Old Fire/Voids/Western Vinyl
Three out of Five Stars

It’s all about the ambiance as far as composer and producer John Mark Lapham is concerned. Despite an impressive array of far-flung collaborators—a list that includes guests vocalists Bill Callahan, Emily Cross, Adam Torres, and Julia Holterturns and a host of accredited backing musicians—Voids mostly emerges as a series of ambient soundscapes that boast little discernible melody but plenty of mood and atmosphere instead. Granted, one doesn’t walk away humming a single one of these twelve tracks but the aural effect can be intoxicating.

Given the sadder circumstance Lapham had to endure over the past few years, the melancholia and sobriety expressed in the album overall are easily explained. According to the backstory shared in the press release, Lapham lost both of his parents, endured two ruined relationships, and, like everyone else, soldiered through the pandemic. Nevertheless, despite all the obstacles tossed his way, Voids is, even in the midst of its celestial trappings, a unified and consistent effort. There’s little variance from track to track, and yet despite the hazy ambiguity expressed in certain songs—“All Gone,” “Blue Star,” “Corpus,” and “Dreamless,” among the many—the music can be, by turns, both soothing and shimmery. Still, there’s ample evidence of darker designs. In June, the red rose blooms, that’s not the flower for me, Callahan insists in his narrative within “When I Was In My Prime,” a somewhat turgid take on a traditional song that nevertheless finds an ideal fit within the sobering stance the album pursues overall.

Videos by American Songwriter

“Love  Is Only Dreaming” trails off into those deeper depths as well, making the case that this is hardly the kind of album one would toss on the proverbial turntable in an effort to sustain a party atmosphere that’s blazing at full tilt. Voids is, after all, an effort that’s best suited to a Sunday morning respite, especially while trying to shake off a hangover or other ill effects that transpires in the wake of overindulged Saturday night romp and revelry.

Happily, though, there is some parting of the clouds. “Don’t You Go,” a track that recasts a John Martyn song, finds Callahan again taking center stage along with a mellow piano coda. The closing sequence of songs—“Void I: Uninvited,” “Void II: Memory,” “Void III: Father As Boy,” and “Void IV: Circles”—are both dreamy and desirable, all shimmer and seduction. Lapham excels in creating a kind of nocturnal noise, but even in the midst of the ambiguity, hints of desire and optimism manage to shine through.

Taken in tandem, Voids is best suited to background listening, whether establishing a mood when encamped by a blazing fireplace on a cold wintry night or musing through meditation when a clear head is needed for concerted concentration. Given the noise and distraction of the modern world, it’s nothing less than a relaxing respite.

Photo by Deborah Cannon / Chromatic PR

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