Originally written during the Australian bushfires as lullabies when Australian composer Rachael Dease was nursing a newborn and facing man-made disaster and helplessness, Hymns for End Times is both a powerful protest against an apocalyptic future and a poetic lullaby to help soothe our fears – and it’s out now via Bandcamp and all good streaming platforms.
With soaring vocals that evoke PJ Harvey and intoxicating, sprawling soundscapes that can be compared to Sufjan Stevens, Rachael Dease is a musical force to be reckoned with.
Written on the banks of the Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan River) as the 2020 composer-in-residence at Western Australia’s historic Gallop House through the Bundanon Trust and National Trust of Australia, Dease moved in with her family during the 2019-2020 Australian bushfires.
While a long way from any danger, the constant smoke haze and frequent updates served as a reminder of the human fragility and destruction.
“It’s difficult to do much else when nursing a baby, you have to sit, be still. You can sing, or whisper or soothe. But mostly you’re forced to be still, for much longer than you normally would,” Dease says. “With the air purifier running red, whirring to keep up, I sat and nursed and watched the heavy smoke on the horizon.”
Then along came COVID-19. “Looking out from this house during lockdown was startling. The river became a lake – a mirror, perfectly still. No people, no sounds, no boats. The perfect vista for stories to emerge.
“I was dealing with fear and anxiety by dreaming up cinematography, and I was processing hope and love by writing the score.”
While Dease’s songs and spellbinding voice have been compared to Nick Cave, Chelsea Wolfe, PJ Harvey and Agnes Obel, Hymns for End Times is part-song, part symphony, with shades of Max Richter, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Henri Gorecki.
And even though the subject matter is heavy, the songs aren’t depressing. Featuring captivating vocals, lush strings and intricate soundscapes, guttural emotions have been shaped into an intensely personal series of dark and beautiful musical vignettes.
“These songs are full of love as well. They’re about love of humans, and love of the future, it’s an outpouring of love, concern, anxiety, sadness and celebration.”
A prolific artist working across multiple disciplines, Dease’s often haunting compositions and sound designs have included the STRUT Dance/Maxine Doyle dance-theatre work Sunset, sound installations including commissions for Dark Mofo’s Winterfeast, and the award- winning art music song cycle City of Shadows, to name just a few.
Dease was also the front person of alternative rock band Schvendes who released an album and two EPs and toured internationally performing at Canadian Music Week as well as a series of shows in New York.
But this is Dease’s first solo album outing – a personal, unapologetic amalgamation of her talents.
HYMNS FOR END TIMES
01 Heartbeat Hush
02 The Silence Knew
03 The Mountain
04 Before It Hit
05 In Our Place
06 We Witches Float
07 The Big, Big Love
08 The Apology
09 We All Fall Down
10 The Children Danced
11 I Am The Always
12 Wait, Wait
Release: 4 December 2020 on all good music streaming services + vinyl & CD
RACHAEL DEASE WITH WEST AUSTRALIAN SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
World Premiere: Presented by Perth Festival in association with Tura New Music
Date: 18 Feb 2021, 8pm
Venue: His Majesty’s Theatre / Karboordup / Perth
How much: $39