Initially the solo project of Lungfish guitarist Asa Osborne, Zomes became a two piece when a meeting with Hanna Olivegren led to her providing improvised vocals for 2013’s Time Was. Now a permanent fixture, Olivegren’s presence this time around is more deliberate, and directed. Not that she’s stamping her authority all over the album – far from it, in fact. She’s still a wispy, ethereal spectre vocally, but there is purpose to her contributions this time around.
Near Unison is the result of a year’s worth of sharing song sketch ideas, and the finished result is at times quite breathtaking. Rather than add meat to the bones of these compositions, they still sound rather skeletal. The temptation to flesh out, colour and bloat the sketches has largely been avoided leaving a series of songs that feel light and emotionally elegant.
Presumably this deftness of touch was intentional as the album focuses on inspiration from folk music. Predominantly these influences are drawn from American and Swedish sources, but time spent with Near Unison reveals an almost universal language that populates folk song. These songs could have been plucked from the air, as many of them seem to resonate with a kind of elemental truth.
This is particularly true of the songs on which Olivegren’s vocals are in the abstract, the freedom afforded to her means she can transcend the limitations of language and explore less tangible constructs. The undulating tones of Se Genom Tiden for example create an almost hypnotic pulse, as Olivegren’s vocals wrap themselves around Osborne’s keyboards, linking them together in a hazy union for all eternity. This unity of vocal and instrumentation is particularly noticeable on the songs that explore aspects of drone, Plein Air Painting for example might well be discordant in its construction, but both parties are seeking to achieve the same enlightened goals.
Closing track Roots Radics foregrounds the hypnotic qualities of Osborne’s compositions, with Olivegren apparently removed from the song altogether and the instrumentation taking her place. That it ends so abruptly is the most jarring thing of the entire album, the trance like state created by each of these songs is cruelly broken. The only solution is to return to the beginning and Beckoning Breeze which is positively joyful. Olivegren soars elegantly over Osborne’s simplistic droning backing, as she does so her vocals switching from hazy and dreamy to something approaching ecstatic, at one point hitting a note that Minnie Ripperton would be proud of.
Elsewhere, the duo explores the storytelling aspects of folk tradition and give these songs actual words (Swedish and English). At these points Olivegren’s vocals, whilst still impressive are defined by song structure and it’s the shamanistic nature of the music that acts as a guide to the spiritual aspects of the songs. Fieldplay and Kids In The Woods both feature simplistic but effective percussion that could easily stem from the rituals of English pagans or the Native Americans.
The most impressive moments on the album are when the strands of storytelling and improvised vocals combine. Simian Mother is perhaps the best example of this. Starting with an almost crazed and pained vocalisation underpinned with what sounds like a mournful cello, it slowly develops into a more conventional structure. The combination of the dual aspects of the album (the improvised, and the storytelling) works beautifully. Kaleidoscope Of Sound continues in a similar vein and is positively glorious. This is in part because the opening section doesn’t sound like someone in the process of a particularly stressful monkey birth, but also because it’s the exact point at which Olivegren and Osborne are in complete unison.