ALBUM REVIEW: Jordan Reyes, Everything Is Always, a choice between hopelessness and learning to make peace with impermanence or…?

Jordan Reyes – Everything Is Always (American Dreams)

Album review: Jordan ReyesEverything Is Always (American Dreams) – She’s upstairs I hear myself saying as the review kicks in, the art of (not quite) spoken word and not quite writing about it while the pigeons (and the pitches) peck and the paint runs and the often thankless task of going through it all, the demands of the “no longer interested” and their appointed representatives, no time for you but they want your interest, oh yes, they want yours!

Can he see his body in the void? A new album from the ever productive Jordan Reyes, it is very easy to lose all this in the mountain ranges of those who these days think they can make things like this at the press of a button and the setting up of a Bandcamp page (gawd how we fear Bandcamp Fridays and the avalanche of time-eating spoken word ambience that it always brings). Spoken word artists, ambient jockeys, self-appointed poets with a mate and keyboard, (do poets ever suffer from imposter syndrome?), ambient space rockers living out their tangerine dreams like a cut price Harvey Bainbridge sharing biscuits and tea with Mr Moorcock – we get an endless production line of it and frankly most of it really isn’t worth a whole heap of anything that much. American Dreams is a label that adds a bit of authority to this one though, a label that come with a reputation, a hard-earned respect and a slice or two of quality control and even though they are “no longer interested” this does stand out from the maddening crowd and and and although Everything in Always is not quite the dark drama and the glorious beauty of benchmark-setters Enablers, there is something here that keeps making me hit the play-it-one-more-time button.

American Dreams is the label founded by Jordan Reyes, this then is another case of the boss releasing his own art, hey, nothing wrong with that, we’ve all done it in our galleries or on our labels but hey, if you are going to do it then you do have to make double sure it isn’t going to harm your brand (horrible term), that it really is good enough to be on the label, this is.

“I’ve had to choose between hopelessness and learning to make peace with impermanence,” says Chicago musician and American Dreams Records founder Jordan Reyes. “Since childhood” so we’re told, “he’s had a pronounced fear of death, and recent years with the ambient tragedy of the COVID pandemic as well cancer and death in close quarters has sparked a more deep existential dread”. Now this does drone at times, there is a slight edge of darkness and doom but that, that feeling of doom, that really isn’t the overwhelming feeling, and if it is about thoughts of death then he is pulling through the darkness and the inevitability in a positively (almost) uplifting way.

But this is the thing you see, I’ve returned to the demands of this album several times now, even though there are hundreds of others demanding out time, I’ve gone back to it several times over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had pretty much nothing else on here in the last two days, determined to say something before it is turned off. Admittedly I’ve been working, I’ve been painting, hell, I’ve even been washing up but once it is turned off will it ever be turned on again? Or will I forget it along with all the others as I reach for Pawn Hearts or some kind of Seaside Treat? Are these spoken words speaking to me? Do they do the things Enablers do, do I hang on them like I do a Peter Hammill lyric or when I’m looking through the whole world window and see it all staring right back at me? Do these words engross and demand like the best writers do? Is he painting pictures with his words here or is just (mostly nice) background noise, should I really need to force myself to listen like I am now doing or should it do the work and grab me? Angels Trumpets? Saint John’s Wort? Toxic body mass? Yellow star shaped flowers? How deep? How deep?

There is some beautifully ambient music here, when the words aren’t there – at times when they are there – but we do hear so much beautiful ambient music, and if it is death then I want the drama of KayoDot or the emotion and hang on, there goes that jet propulsion again, there’s the black clouds and ultimately the perseverance and is it really taking me with it? Is this thing pitched at me several times now really taking me with it?  

Maybe I’m The Dust really is beautiful, it is almost a merciful release, a relief until it kicks in again and the next sonic attack and that masculine voice that doesn’t quite convince in the way you want it to and what is he on about now? She was a relief, what did he say? Every particle is a what? And it just isn’t quite catching ears. Apparently Pitchfork like it, or so we we’re told in the pitch, as if that sways things? I am trying here, I have come back to it and stuck with it and invested time in it, unlike you, I’m far from “no longer interested” and I really really want to like this, I want to tell you, and I was listening so intently just then, trying to find it, trying to find something, that I nearly really did step back onto one of the pigeons that likes to just walk in here and share the studio floor.

I am searching for the essence, the key, the connect in those encrypted margins. I really do want to wipe away my cynical smile, but then zen and me never did get on and anger can seep in with the slat-solutions (or whatever I actually meant to type just then?) and the back-step backtrack and “to get there, Reyes found a new framework – Zen – though finding that path was not without its challenges”, We’re told that “in fall 2020, I was prescribed an antipsychotic for unmanageable anxiety,” he explains, “but the medication had a horrible effect – I couldn’t stop thinking of death, of infinite darkness, of terror.” This isn’t the first time psychopharmacology has upended Reyes’ life, but pulling the plug on the antipsychotic was the first step in getting better. “I went back to an SSRI,” he says, “but it would be months before the fear and crying stopped.” He looked for a spiritual antidote to the angry void. “The one thing I couldn’t argue with was Zen,” he says. “Suddenly that void was a portal, not an abyss.” – and you see, you’re given all this and it almost adds the pressure to like it, to say yes, to not appear heartless here. I could of course just ignore it and not write a thing, ignore the repeated pitch and the push from his people to respond in some way. I do ignore most things these days, most demands, unless the art really connects, we are very picky about the things we cover on these pages or play on the radio, but there is something here and I’m really wanting to get it, I really am trying, there is something, I am trying… 

“This is where Everything Is Always begins, and it lines up with another pursuit”, training for his first marathon apparently, but why should I care? He said he’s “no longer interested” and even if I was training for a marathon myself why should anyone give a flying flip? “Most of my long-distance running is done on Chicago’s lakefront path,” he explains. “To run that path is to take the temperature of the city – you get a better understanding of the whole.” Lake Michigan’s waves rolling; leaves sprouting before dropping six months later; Chicagoans rushing to beach volleyball courts before retreating to their apartments. “The city was breathing,” Reyes explains, “and that cyclicality was profound. It mirrored what Bhante Henepola Gunaratana said in Mindfulness In Plain English – that breathing has no stopping point. I understood constant motion as a universal truth. Just as we were breathed out in the big bang, we will be breathed in with its collapse, and when the breath begins anew, all of the same matter and energy here now will be in that infinitesimally small point then.”

Are you still reading this? I’m still listening to the album (for something like the 43rd time now I’d guess), and I did have lots to do today, not that you’re interested and anyway, where were we?  “To carry that scale, Reyes enlisted friends and colleagues. On a song like “Would I Were A Moth,” with its plodding bass riff and steady spoken word meditation on a moth’s death drive, Chicago cellist, improviser, and composer Lia Kohl – who appears on all songs bu “Kraken” – provides an organic sensibility, droning alongside until swelling into a melody. On the same track, Sam Wagster of Mute Duo and Anatomy of Habit adds a tinkling pedal steel that sweeps through the song’s end with blossoming woodwind bursts from Patrick Shiroishi and Emily Harper Scott’s crooning vocals”.

“Some songs were written especially for other vocalists. For longform drone composition “Tralineation,” Reyes enlisted ONO bandmate and mentor Travis for words and vocals (ONO, haven’t we said good things about them? Got them tangled up with UTO the other day, but then when I told you about that ONO coverage, you said you were “no longer interested”!

“Travis is an artistic father figure,” he explains, “and constantly helps me through my fear of death.” On “tralineation,” travis re-appropriates mythology behind the old minstrel song “Old Black Joe,” interpreting it as a Black American, weaving in science fiction, transhumanism, and more atop pedal steel, cello, morse code modular synths, and bass guitar”. 

Hang on, where are we now? This is taking up far too much time, are you still reading, half way through the jet propulsion of Kraken for the umpteenth time and I’m still not sure I relinquish my misgivings. Hey, I just sold a painting while Kraken played for the god knows how many times it has now, and here comes the relief of Maybe I’m the Dust again and there is actually a crow outside in the tree right now, that’s probably why the pigeons are in here and if only the almost silly voice didn’t kick in half way through it but then I guess that is the black dog of the fog of death that always turns up unwanted, I imagine Death has an almost silly voice? 

“Maybe I’m The Dust” is similar, written specifically for Reyes’ wife Ambre Sala to sing. Her gentle, evocative voice cracks open the song, considering the fear of death as an object – “So why does the crow not scare me?” she incants, “And why do they swarm my abode? I’m peering through a dark glass until I’m carried home.” Reyes’ voice joins her as a harmonic mate to carry the listener into a crashing bass guitar, a vehicle to break through fear, to reach the other side. We emerge into the album’s title track and mantra – “Everything Is Always,” a sung melody buffeted by Lia Kohl’s cello, Patrick Shiroishi’s saxophone, and Theresa May’s trumpet. While abating fear is a continual process, Everything Is Always is a mark in the sand. “Putting this out, writing these words,” Reyes explains, “means I have a promise to keep working, learning about myself and the universe.” He’s far from enlightened, far from unafraid, but it’s clear that Reyes is committed, open-hearted, and willing to put in the work.

Oh look, I feel bad, I feel cold-hearted, uncaring, I really tried, I really did, I went back, I went back again, I really stuck with it far longer then I needed to, ten I could have been expected to, there is something here but when I hit the stop button in a moment, will I ever hit the play button again? Will I ever go back to it? If, heaven forbid, this was Pitchbloodyfork, we’d probably give it something like 7.1 out of 10, thankfully we’re not Pitchbloodyfork and we don’t do that kind of thing. I don’t know.  (sw) 

Hey, at least I didn’t spend my day watching Hirst burn the paintings the assitants he just laid off had to paint for him…



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