Music review: Common Eider, King Eider's "Sense of Place"


It's finally here, the years in the works "Sense of Place," an ambitious audio/visual document that captures San Francisco drone/ambient/folk band Common Eider, King Eider's quest to build a cabin in the wilds of Alaska. It's an incredible package including both a book and a dvd, each offering up images of the process, from the flight up, the journey to the site, to the actual construction, as well as the gorgeous landscape surrounding the cabin (or cabin to be). The dvd and the cd both contain part of the music, both of which are meant to be played simultaneously, Zaireeka style, the fusion of the two resulting in a lush soundscape of layered organ drones and haunting choral harmonies, the music on its own is moving and mysterious, but when coupled with the visuals, it's that much more powerful.

The dvd is a gorgeously impressionistic visual travelogue of the process, the first image is the plane soaring over the clouds, then the snowed-in city, the trip to the site through epic expanses of snow, the actual building of the cabin, from the ground up, the whole thing peppered with lots of stunning shots of the surrounding landscape, the snow that goes on for miles, gorgeous pink tinged skies, distant mountains and dense almost black forests, eventually, the shots are through the windows of the cabin, the trees bowing in the cold wind outside, the clouds drifting across stunningly blue skies, eventually, there's one more survey of the pristine landscape surrounding the cabin, animal tracks, frozen lakes, the setting sun, trees still green, gathering storms in the distance, and finally, the cabin recedes into the distance, and we're back on the plane once again, heading home.

The accompanying music is the perfect soundtrack, spare and spacious, the distant drone a constant underpinning, the vocals drifting in and out, we were worried at first about matching up the two discs, but realized it almost doesn't matter, we tried multiple mixes, and it always sounded fantastic, wheezy chordal whirs, the vocals layered and wreathed in echo and reverb, a mysterious chorale that instead of building and then fading out, remains somewhat constant, with different voices receding and resurfacing, each part of the music slipping easily from just organ, to organ and voices, making for a constantly shifting landscape of muted melody and vocal texture, the vibe is sort of Grouper-ish, but a bit more medieval, a bit more arcane sounding, as if it were in fact some ancient ritual, reenacted for the building of this structure, to imbue it with the spirit of the land and its past inhabitants. The music is dark, but infused with a mysterious warmth, the perfect analogue really for the whole process/project.

The cd and the dvd are both housed in stickered clear plastic inner sleeve, which itself is then housed in a super elaborate printed origami style fold out poster, sealed with a sticker. All that's accompanied by a trade-sized, full color, 56 page perfect bound softcover book, featuring photos from the expedition, some as mundane as a sign at the local grocery store, others stunning shots of the terrain, the roaring fire in the cabin stove, empty Pabst Blue Ribbon cans in a snow drift, a black banana, cut firewood, the plane, tracks in the snow, some obvious, others abstract, all gorgeous. Includes minimal liner notes, including a poem by Ben Chasny of Six Organs Of Admittance. And on top of that, the package also includes a silkscreened patch, featuring the Common Eider sigil.

Common Eider, King Eider "Sense of Place" book+cd+dvd