Reconsideration, at least in this writer’s case, has been very kind to Raphael Weinroth-Browne.
I was introduced last year to the Canadian cellist and post-classical composer by way of Worlds Within, the new 10-track song-cycle he plans to self-release on CD and digital platforms Jan. 24. At first blush, Weinroth-Browne’s modus operandi mimicked, at least in construction, that of fellow Canadian cellist Adrian Copeland, whose excellent, one-man work under the moniker Alder & Ash is a can’t-look-away mélange of post-rock, metal, ambient and classical modes. (Disclosure: Alder & Ash’s The Crowneater, out in December, was one of my favorite records of 2019.) But, where Copeland seemed enthralled with composing a kind of portraiture of penitence and angst – the songs are riveting, sometimes emotionally violent, stuff – Weinroth-Browne wrote in much different handwriting. On first pass, it sounded good, yes, but it didn’t always grab my full attention and it only intermittently spoke to me.
So, now it’s 2020. Enter my second listen. And my third. And my fourth. The more I listen to Worlds Within, the more it grows all over me – and the more I start picking on subtleties and masterful twists of composition that weren’t readily apparent at first glance. Reconsideration proved pieces like the two-part “From Within” suite – the entire disc is one long composition chopped into 10 chapters – to be utterly jaw dropping, with carefully plucked harmonic notes laying a percussive foundation for Weinroth-Browne’s soaring high notes. About 1:30 into “From Within II,” if you’re not crying, check your damn pulse.
“Percussive,” of course, is relative, as Weinroth-Browne is playing all this material in real time with only a cello and some effects pedals. On “From Above,” the fourth chapter, he creates amazing percussive texture with how he plucks and saws on the strings; he repeats the motif as he offers his own, oft-somber fugues. He pulls similar tricks, hinting at his metal roots, on the second part of the four-part “Tumult” suite, with his cello offering a bassy snarl in the foreground, again, as he works the soaring crescendos. It’s alarmingly effective and his adherence to certain chamber-music techniques creates miniature themes that tie together the pieces as more than the sum of their parts. In one listen, from top to bottom, this thing will enrapture you.
And Weinroth-Browne knows how to seal the deal. On the last two tracks – “Fade (Afterglow)” and “Unending II” – he revisits figures discovered throughout the record while sounding not resolved but practically funereal. It’s a great re-telling of the “worlds” on aforementioned display and a great way to usher in the final notes. The whole thing might have seemed “interesting” on first listen but subsequent passes revealed its grander vision and larger gifts. Weinroth-Browne has crafted something masterful with his newest work. Any fan of post-classical owes it to themselves to hear this out.