Album Review: Jessica Moss – Galaxy Heart: art-rock atmospheres with an enduring soul.

The Breakdown

Galaxy Heart’ opens out like music made with room to manoeuvre, a post rock soundtrack driven by improvisation and fluidity. It's an album geared up for reaction rather than reflection.
Constellation Records 9.0

What will we think of lock down records when we listen back to them in years to come? Introspective music from a time of looking inwards because the outside world just stood still? Or maybe there was more space to dream, to take more risks, to break free from constraints because everything ahead was unknown.

For Montreal based violinist and composer Jessica Moss those suspended months certainly prompted activity rather than stasis, a reaction that saw her sweep through the continuum of artistic responses to the lockdown experience. A member of the seminal post punk ensemble Thee Silver Mt. Zion for fifteen years and prolific contributor to recordings by the likes of Vic Chestnutt, Big/Brave and Sarah Davachi, Moss has focused on solo work since 2014. Her music, steeped in experimental post classicism and captured in unfolding long-forms, is therefore naturally immersive but rather than simply build on this dimension when recording during the pandemic, Jessica Moss chose a more tangential approach.

2021’s meditative chiller ‘Phosphenes’ grew from the opportunity afforded by those early days of solitude to focus more precisely on compositional form, but its new companion release ‘Galaxy Heart(available via Constellation from 7th October) captures another kind of liberation. Reflecting on the shift Moss recognises that she ’found new ways, new loves. Let my violin lead. Let my voice lead. Played the guitar loud, in the way I love but never believed belonged to me’. Consequently ‘Galaxy Heart’ opens out like music made with room to manoeuvre, a post rock soundtrack driven by improvisation and fluidity. Featuring a spectrum of instrumentation, Moss adding her gritty guitar playing and voice to the mix, and contributions (recorded remotely) from the mercurial drummer Jim White and Godspeed bassist Thierry Amar, it’s an album geared up for reaction rather than reflection.

From the moment a fanfare wail of banshee violin announces the record with ‘Resistance Creature’, you are pulled up to face music that needs to be encountered, that just seems to be in the room with you. That visceral quality continues to quiver with ‘Uncanny Being (Violin Study #2)’ from the opening tentative conversation, where a fluttering violin teases with drum chatter and yawning bass, to the closing haunting calm. Flowing between these points the urgency builds. Moss’s keening Nordic melody swells while the distortion builds, Amar’s double bass finds its eerie low moan and White’s percussion tumbles down dramatically. Probably the most overt ‘trio’ piece on the record, it’s a track that introduces you to the range of components that power ‘Galaxy Heart’ so effectively.

Elsewhere the sound foundations beneath Moss’s lead often meld, merging to the less distinct, but the overall thrust becomes no less dynamic. On ‘Uncanny Body (Violin Study #1)’, a warm rolling pulse hunkers down while fierce violin lines growl and cry, as if calling wildly across some wide open plain. ‘This Continuous Spectrum’ proceeds to a processional slow-core drag, an eerie percussive breath constant as Moss’s electric guitar chimes sharply before plunging to a deep major chord resolve. These tracks, in their subtle instrumental variations, give a glimpse of Moss’s intentions for ‘Galaxy Heart’, but it’s the pieces that feature her vocals which really reveal her aim to ‘face those doubts and worn-out notions of what I believed to be my limits head on; and then to let them go’.

Take the quirky rhyme riddle ‘Is There Room For All Of It’, where the simple childlike tune skips in unison with the bass and organ while deeper observations of ‘compassion running through the cracks’ temper the jauntiness. Those hints of Henry Cow filter through to the shadowy chamber song of ‘Enduring Oceans’ but it’s on the album’s pivotal title track that Moss’s vocal contributions stride out with more abandon. Journeying through three sections, ‘Galaxy Heart’ travels a serious distance from Gallic drone to angular post punk breakdown to a surging gothic scramble of guitar shards, organ swells and sonorous bass booms. Within the shifting soundscape Moss’s singing adapts empathically, from soaring and melodramatic to unvarnished with a Raincoats-esque feel for the non-melody. The opening ‘Galaxy Heart/Black Hole’ carrion call is one of those definitive ‘YES!!’ moments.

Of course, any Jessica Moss record needs to draw on the individuality and invention of her violin playing and for all its diversity ‘Galaxy Heart’ continues to connect with her instrumental touchstone. The emotion ringing ‘Undirected’ pirouettes to the nuances of her vibrant acoustic tones while ‘Light Falls On Every Door’, with its rising wave of melody, glides like an elevating piece of musical wonderment. Fittingly the album closer, ‘Opened Ending’ is also a string driven thing. Previously a digital release for Constellation’s Corona Borealis Longform Singles Series, it’s uncanny how beautifully the piece resonates with the whole of ‘Galaxy Heart’. Maybe the track’s dark grandeur, painted by the rising layers of strings, Balkan swings and ecclesiastic atmospherics, laid the subconscious bedrock for the seismic achievement that this album represents.

There is some extraordinary music here, extraordinary music that Jessica Moss created during extraordinary times, extraordinary music which will have significance long after its historical reference point has become another distant memory.

Pick up your copy of ‘Galaxy Heart’ by Jessica Moss from your local record shop or direct from:

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