Letha Rodman Melchior, Shimmering Ghost

Marc Masters

By Marc Masters

on 12.03.14 in Reviews

Letha Rodman Melchior’s mist-like music wafts through the cracks between storytelling, field recording and abstract sound art. She brought to this hybrid the wisdom of experience, having played in indie rock bands, worked as a makeup artist, collaborated with her husband Dan, delved into visual art and fought a four-year battle with cancer. Words can’t measure the tragedy of her recent passing, just as they can’t fully capture her amorphous, world-absorbing music.

Calm, dreamlike fables connected less by subject than tone

Shimmering Ghost extends the accomplishments of last year’s Handbook for Mortals into deeper territory. Melchior doesn’t compose so much as conjure, blending found sounds with simple melodic figures. The results feel like stories without tracing linear narratives. Slow piano chords slide under blurred voices; harp glissandos (courtesy of Mary Lattimore) melt into whirring noise; guitar sheens split into the clip-clop of horse hooves. Every element is tactile, but little is literal; we glimpse scenes from tales that will never be fully told.

During “Fra Mauro,” a female voice describes her fright at encountering an apparition; later, in “Southern Highlands” a man tells a “sonic ghost story” about hearing screams inside his refrigerator. These fables seem connected less by subject than tone, their measured calm more dreamlike than scary. That’s true throughout Shimmering Ghost. You passively accept its mysterious logic since it’s impossible to process it all.

There’s a sense of the whole world being viewed on Shimmering Ghost, yet it always feels personal, as if Melchior can translate her own subjective experience into sound. She can be funny too: On closer “Bay of Windows,” she swings through absurd, cartoonish rumbles, then cuts abruptly to silence. It seems stopping short makes for a much stronger punch line than fading away.