Returning to the piano for the first time in a long while, Canadian composer and songwriter Ian William Craig presents a powerful new album in the shape of Red Sun Through Smoke. Recorded in Kelowna over a fortnight in the summer of 2018, when forest fires were threatening to engulf the city and which directly contributed to the death of his grandfather, Craig’s eighth album sounds a mournful and apocalyptic tone.
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A fire will keep burning while it still has access to oxygen and fuel.
It’s hard not to relate the current coronavirus epidemic to the circumstances under which Ian William Craig recorded ‘Red Sun Through Smoke’; in 2018 he was in the city of Kelowna, Canada, surrounded by forest fires. In 2020 the whole world is surrounded by… us.
People will react to crises like these in their own way. Some will fall into denial, others will become anxious. Once that crisis becomes personal, sadness may take over. Craig’s grandfather died because of those fires.
So this is an album wrought from anxiety and denial and sadness. The way Craig’s music has split and fractured has also sounded brittle to my ears, never more so than now. His beautiful falsetto cracks and fizzles as it passes through his tape loops. Faced with fire, beauty doesn’t stand a chance. Bass throbs are inescapable and frightening, even in its more plaintive moments you’re never safe.
Despite knowing this, the piano makes us feel safe. The instrument was once the centre of the family home, the television of its time. Craig stretches his voice into a nervous whimper on ‘Lost Of The Lantern Oil’, but bold piano chords do their best to hold things together. They start to fall apart anyway.
But there are moments of optimism here. As haunting as it is, Craig singing with himself on ‘Far And Then Farther’ feels defiant. We need defiance and optimism to get us through these difficult times. Self-isolation won’t last forever.
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