There is a mystical quality to Meditations, Nona Marie Invie’s debut work as IN // VIA. But it becomes evident after only a few minutes that it is not necessarily this quality to which the title refers. Certainly, there is something meditative about the stripped-down arrangements, mostly a single synthesizer, piano, subtle vocal loops. However, it is in the other definition of a meditation that this outing is perhaps best understood: “a written or spoken discourse expressing considered thoughts on a subject.”
Each song is linked one to the next in a continuous flow. The songs feel at first culled rather than crafted, like stones chosen from a stream and imbued with meaning, each one only subtly different from the last, arranged with meditative consideration.
It is not hypnotic repetition that characterizes this work. It is instead this consideration and indeed the subtle but certain force with which Invie considers the chosen subjects. If the songs are like stones imbued with meaning, it is not a flippant imbuing but a well-developed one. Invie has chosen these stones, culled these songs, for their evocative and familiar qualities. This stone we recognize as looking like a hand, this one like a heart, this one like a little house.
With side A’s final song, the familiarity stacks up yet another layer. Invie sings: “Remember the time we were together / so long ago / I don’t remember, all I know / is that it makes me feel good now. / Only the lonely / can play.” It is an ethereal interpretation of the Motels’ “Only the Lonely,” which itself nodded to familiar crooner-philosopher tropes. Far from monastic equanimity, this is a reflection on human relationships, not transcendence. It is an intentional reaching-out to the modes of worldly song, not a denial. Invie, ever self-aware, twists the song back on itself: with distance, she seems to say, heartache is a pleasing tool to use.
One might think of Cocteau Twins’ collaboration with Harold Budd, The Moon and the Melodies while listening to IN // VIA’s Meditations. Alice Coltrane’s Turiya Sings might come to mind as well. The aesthetic parallels are evident. But while couched in cosmic sounds, Meditations is the meditating of a songwriter. It may owe something to a lineage of ambient synthesizer exploration, but it owes just as much to Neil Young or Curtis Mayfield or, indeed, to Invie’s own substantial career as Dark Dark Dark’s primary songwriter.
released April 15, 2017
All songs written by Nona Invie. Fletcher Barnhill plays bass. Photo by Zoey Melf.