To the uninitiated coming into Joe Frawley’s Satyrinae, the opening track, “Threshold,” would suggest a lovely album of quiet, reflective piano pieces, perhaps with some light embellishment. But, you see, you’re just standing on the…well, the threshold, and Frawley is waiting for you to step inside. As a purveyor of “dream projections [and] memory experiments,” it’s Frawley’s modus to offer up an establishing motif and then use that to craft deeper, perhaps weirder, and quite unforgettable pieces put together from parts and moments, some from that establishing material, and some from…well, anywhere, really. By the last minute of “Threshold,” which really does have some fantastic, jazz-tinged piano work, as sounds distort and the environment shifts and shimmers around us, we begin to understand that we are headed elsewhere. Satyrinae is filled with signature Frawley touches, from sounds that waver like a reflection in a water-coated mirror to carefully sliced vocal samples turned into instruments to narrative soundbites that ring with a voyeuristic intimacy. “Waterclock Secrets” pulls all these things together perfectly. Frawley takes repeating, wordless notes from vocalist Kay Pere and lays them out in Reich-like repetition in the middle of a waking-dream landscape. Michelle Cross’ voice, of which I have written glowingly in the past, brings soul and longing to the first half of “Hold Up the Light.” Later in the track we get that touch of memory-based voyeurism as a woman talks about “having that dream again.” As is often the case with Frawley’s work, we are tantalizingly given just a piece of it, then left to fill in details for ourselves. In the background, Cross’ voice gets sliced and layered as before, moving the piece from song to vignette. On “Whisperalia” we come back to the slightly unadorned piano. This particular instrument is another recurring element in Frawley’s work. However he records it, it comes away with this wonderful, slightly muted but still tinny sound, and it’s lovely. There is a frailty to it, a feel of age, and in its rich echo, a subtle sense of loneliness.
I have been quite taken with Joe Frawley’s work since I was first introduced to it, and Satyrinaecertainly further cements that appreciation. Experimental yet accessible, his work challenges us not on a listening level, as in how much of this experiment can you take? but on a listener level. How do we listen to music? What about it affects us, and why? How comfortable are we peering in on someone else’s personal narrative, even when we know it’s fictional? The repeat listens that Satyrinae is likely to get should help you find your way to these answers. Beautiful work from Joe Frawley, as always.