The often delayed nature of the music industry, with its heavily planned promotional cycles, typically leads to an album’s songs seeing the light of day long after the record’s stories have passed their points of initial inspiration. As such, the fact that Thanya Iyer’s 2020 full-length release, KIND, seems to reflect lively emotions and an energized state of being that greatly contrasts with the dominant stillness of the pandemic, doesn’t appear all that odd. Yet with the arrival of her newest release rest, Iyer seems to be embracing a creative premise built entirely on a concept of contrast, without the provocation of market trends fostering that perception by default.
Thanya Iyer’s Live Trio is:
Thanya Iyer (Vocals, Synths, Violin, Viola, Piano, Percussion)
Pompey (Bass, Synth, Drum Programming, Percussion)
Daniel Gélinas (Drums, Drum Machine, Percussion, Guitar)
In choosing to give her inner thoughts and emotional revelations a platform through rest, by, as Iyer says, “examin[ing] her relationship to rest on a more critical level [and] realiz[ing] an active pursuit of rest, ” the very core mentality around which rest is built becomes a blunt example of contrast unto itself. For what is rest if not a form of slowing, of stoppage, and-or of stillness? Meanwhile, an “active pursuit” of something implies intentional investigation rather than a lack of change to one’s awareness or state of being. And so, to have this EP about one person’s musings over the idea off rest, rise to the surface of the music landscape once the world has become to move away from rest, as well as being written from a place of purpose-driven exploration, leads to a listening experience and a concept that feels much more oriented in the present than perhaps its predecessor, which feels much more chained to an experiential delay and what Iyer may or may not have lived through already.
On the surface, it’s easy to call rest something of a chamber folk record. Its string quartet, brass/woodwind trio, and choir-laden arrangements quite literally set this style of tone. The qualities are certainly hard to ignore –– between the ethereal harmonics and sliding tones played by the string quartet on opener °slow burn,° or flashes of what almost sound like cheeky, fluttering utterances of notes played by the oboe and trombone on “leave the room and face the waves.” There’s an enjoyable alignment between the album’s sense of ongoing personal exploration of Iyer’s defining what “rest” means to her, and the whimsical characteristics of the instrumentation heard on the EP’s five tracks.
While the instrumentation itself prompts an impression of slightly less commonality for folk music, Iyer doesn’t designate the instruments or their noticeable timbres to carry the melodic weight of any one song. Rather, the sonic character of each is allowed to mingle and move around in the background, making statements that feels especially witty on occasion an draw one’s attention to them, without any one instrument, or even Iyer’s own voice, ever demanding to become the sole star of the show. In this way, the music seems constant in its sense of melodic activity, thus upholding Iyer’s idea of deliberate, continuous questioning and evaluation of “rest,” but the extremes to which the music will go with this stream of active consideration and movement, isn’t enough to make the album as a whole sound the way a period of inarguable “non-rest” might feel. Even the somewhat more pointed, and more dynamically bold declaration of “Take it one step at a time” repeated by Iyer and Mawmz Choir on “Float On” doesn’t tip the scales of the album’s mood to a place of forceful awakening. Twinkling ripples of high-pitched synth tones shaped by intriguing reverse reverb, and thin, snapping percussive beats that persist underneath, surround the crisp glowing vibrance of all the vocals with a modest undercurrent of gentle sounds. Very much in fitting with the theme of the EP, it’s not unlike the simultaneous coexistence of people resting during the night, while small but active critters create delicate swells of sound that cut through the silence without greatly disturbing the atmosphere.
The best part of Iyer’s latest release is this very notion of active existence: In searching for her own definition for rest, and knowing that can change, this EP gains and will maintain, a much stronger connection to real time in the present, rather than retroactive reflection –– even as the days go by and the record’s release date falls further back on the calendar. The concept here isn’t one that is tied to a single, closed loop and in that regard, it may be quite some time before Thanya Iyer puts her curiosity around the nature of “rest,” itself to rest.
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