It’s been a weird couple of weeks and I’ve maybe spent a little bit too much time in my own company. Of course, the dog is here, and if it weren’t for her and you, dear reader, I’d have to say I’ve been speaking to myself a lot lately. In each of the previous two days, my ascension to peace of mind manifested itself in the form a dead mouse. But my return to the depths of mental anguish coincides with a new mouse’s attempt to evade my perceptions so that it can eat the dog’s food. It’s just started rattling around near the oven, synchronized now, hilariously, to yet another episode of psychic desperation. In other words, I’m on my third mouse.
Luckily this Woo record is chilling me out a little bit. What’s the deal with these guys anyway? I first heard them on a mix tape we listened to a lot on tour last year and knew only that there wasn’t much to know about them at all but that they were brothers — Mark and Clive Ives — and their brand of supernal bedroom jazz had been granted a resurrection by Drag City’s reissue of their self-released 1989 album It’s Cozy Inside. Liking Cozy has also meant liking the newly compiled anthology When the Past Arrives, which shares a vibe with Cozy that’s like kicking back at a luau on the moon.
Also released by Drag City, When the Past Arrives is a cerebral, 14-stop expedition through hundreds of previously unreleased tracks recorded in the ’70s and ’80s by the brothers Ives. It’s just what the doctor ordered for the slow turnover rate between winter and spring this year here on the east coast. By this time, I’m usually listening to Israelites and contemplating my garden; instead, I’ve got When the Past Arrives and a mouse infestation. As far as the pressures of a plague of rodents is concerned, you couldn’t ask for a better soundtrack. There are exciting key changes at every turn to inspire the hunt and to reward the kill. Now, I’m not advocating that you should take a mouse’s life if you’ve got any other options. I simply ran out of options. For a few weeks I tried to ignore them and I cleaned more diligently than ever before — I don’t keep a dirty home in general but I thought, if anything, a cleaner-than-normal home was mouse-speak for “GTFO.”
The songs on When the Past Arrives cast a comforting trance that’s blissful and polite, like one of those handheld scalp massagers. From the outset of the album there’s a sense of curious trepidation that finds its footing somewhere between John Carpenter and Brian Eno and unwinds complacently between Air and Danny Elfman. “Distant Consequences” is a personal favorite for its savory melody and pace — it’s about as close to anthemic as the album gets but, like the songs on Cozy, the whole here is greater than the sum of its parts.
The majority of the album is entirely instrumental with an outstanding glare of guitar here and a cool shade of clarinet there. Each song is fundamentally hushed like these goddamn mice in my apartment, which I understand was more of a necessity than anything else because the brothers’ downstairs neighbor would complain about the noise when recording sessions ran too late. Each track also seems cognizant of its nonessential beginning and end — you can almost feel the moment their neighbor got sick of the racket and songs seem to end before they need to or even should. The second-to-last track, “The Garden Path,” disrupts this pattern and human voices momentarily unseat breathy jams to ask, “How far out will you go today up the garden path?” The questionable aside provides an attention-grabbing moment of inconsistence but a brief return to earth is rewarded with a closing three minutes and 38 seconds of abiding tranquility. When the Past Arrives is about as innocently underfoot as the frigging mice in my home, but even harmless pests must be silenced eventually. The difference is, the surprises Woo left behind are far more desirable and exciting than mouse crap.