Feast of the Epiphany is a unique project. The brainchild of composer Nick Podgurski – along with collaborators Andrew Smiley and Caley Monahon-Ward – the group merges the seemingly incompatible worlds of drone, folk, psych, prog, and ambient synth (among other things) into a curious, avant-garde blend. As if that wasn’t enough, they further up the ante with improvised vocals and extensive structures that give ample space for these worlds to comingle and marinade into this ghostly, singular sound in spite of the dualities from which they arrive. It’s repetitive and elusive. Alien and organic. Challenging, yet effortless. Economic and elaborate. It almost feels set out against its own existence, but comes together in a way that’s totally distinct and beguiling.
Practicing Loss is as powerful, ethereal and uncomfortable as the title suggests. After losing my mother last year and soon after coming across this record, (kudos to the folks at Kincsem for getting this out early and allowing me so much time with this album), the titular phrase began to resonate over and over (and over) again in my head. The passing of a loved one isn’t something you can really prepare for, regardless of how long you have to mentally ready yourself for it. The immediate impact is impossible to brace for, and weirdly, no matter how well you believe you can know yourself, the way you react and phase through responses to such a profound event are simultaneously impressive and disappointing.
In some ways, Practicing Loss parallels these feelings. There is an inescapable darkness that is steeped deep within the keys (where “I” touches on brooding and menacing vibes, “III” feels damn-near funereal), yet the guitars offer a contradictory flavor, flickering with a beauty and hope that belies the droning foundations. At high volumes (which I urge you to explore), the groans of the keys become borderline assaulting and overwhelming, boosting this contrast to another level (I especially love the second or so of awe-inspiring silence that follows each track as they extinguish). There’s certainly an overarching “mood,” yet each track takes on a distinctly different flavor.
As suffocating and outright dominating as these tones can be, the glimpses outside of this darkness become the waypoints that keep listeners afloat (even as comfort and ease manage to stem forth from this monolith of drone). Though initially daunting and seemingly impenetrable, Practicing Loss introduces itself as something that may favor a passive listen, and in many ways it does. But the way each track evolves at unexpected whims and threads listeners through each shifty missive, sometimes transforming and bending at the will of a single atonal note or delicate chord; Feast of the Epiphany reveal themselves to be more than elevated drone. The independent arms of guitars, keys, and bass react and play off one another, developing a fluidlike feel, rebounding off one another or merging in a new direction.
There’s always something to be learned about artists’ language and syntax; so as much as the improvised moments would seem to upend dissecting the record in such a way, the moments where the tides metaphorically shift and transitions sync up become just that much more awe-inspiring. On top of this, Podgurski’s elongated phrasing pushes this even further, stretching beyond what feels like “normal,” often drifting off in ways that both compete with and parallel the extended structures and quirky phrasing. It conjures up an odd sense of comfort as the folk and psych textures come together and boosts the drab feels of the keys.
It’s difficult to condense what Practicing Loss is all about, though it’s certain that adventurous tastes can be rewarded. This is an unquestionably difficult album that’s all-but off limits to anyone with an attention span attuned to three-four-minute rock standards. However, it’s not so extreme that it’s totally unapproachable. Practicing Loss is something that opens itself up with each spin as listeners acclimate to the pace and peaks of the record. As intimidating it can be to navigate, the extended, improvised structures are sedate enough that they’re able to make a convincing case to simply surrender to the roaring ebb and flow and simply latch on to the embellishments of the guitars and vocals as they come.
The album really succeeds in balancing what could be a droning enduro with strange melodies and ear-piquing, heartfelt vocals. This pseudo-competition between the distorted tones and effervescent guitars and vocals sets up a dichotomy that runs throughout the record. As Podgurski suggests in “II,” it feels like: “We are bound. We evaporate.” Though not something that you’ll be likely to binge, it can be one of those records that takes on a new life once it clicks, and once it has, the experience becomes that much more interesting.
Practicing Loss is available now via Kincsem Records.