Lyricist: Jozef Van Wissem.
Personnel: Jozef Van Wissem (vocals, lute).
Audio Mixer: Robbie Lee.
Recording information: New York, NY (2014).
Photographer: William Lacalmontie.
There are very few referents to Jozef Van Wissem's music. The composer and lutenist has brought his 17th century instrument into the 21st by transposing its canon -- which numbers in the hundreds if not thousands of compositions -- in literally reverse fashion (bottom left to top right) or using the cut-up techniques of William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, post-minimalism, modern folk, and even doom and black metal aesthetics. Combine these with an impressive improvisational acumen and healthy doses of darkly mystical spirituality inspired by Emanuel Swedenborg and Saint John of the Cross and you have a work as unsettling as it is original. Van Wissem is prolific. Since 2000, he has released dozens of records either solo or in collaboration. It Is Time for You to Return, his first solo offering since winning the Cannes Soundtrack Award for his work on Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive, features nine original tunes; all but three are performed alone. Set opener "If There's Nothing Left Where Will You Go?" contains a stark, repetitive melodic pattern that is miked so closely that the microtones of the lute's lower strings reverberate against the new notes. "Love Destroys All Evil" is written in a minor key. It juxtaposes bass drone strings against middle- and high-register melodic phrases to deliver a gorgeous melodic intro. His grainy baritone is multi-tracked in repeating the title over and again with a doomy intensity as he overlays more lower-register notes, increasing the tension until the last phrase, "Love destroys all evil/And frees us from fear," liberates the listener. "Wherever You Will Live I Will Live" is hymn-like in construction, not quite Gregorian, informed by pre-Baroque plainchant, while "After We Leave" displays a glorious reverb on the middle strings that resembles choral voices echoing against the high strings' melody. There are also three tracks with collaborators. "Confinement" and "Temple Dance of the Soul" feature Follakzoid's Domingo García-Huidobro on beats and glitch; they add drama -- and dread -- to Van Wissem's presentation. The final cut, "Invocation of the Spirit Spell," reprises his work with Yasmine Hamdan and Jarmusch from Only Lovers Left Alive (and may have been a holdover from the score). Her multi-tracked chorus vocals ride atop the the acoustic lute and electric guitar in the intro. It is her soloing in the verse, framed by strummed lute chords and droning distorted guitar, that creates its swirling effect. The melody is instrumentally skeletal, but the cloudy blur of voices as verse and bridge entwine creates several labyrinthine layers, sending the record off in an atmosphere of luxuriant, seductive drift. Van Wissem's recordings are always unusual in the best sense of the word; they are also uncompromising, focused, yet vulnerable to what emerges from their margins. It Is Time for You to Return is restrained in approach but deep and wide in vision. ~ Thom Jurek