At least on streaming services, the tracklist of Songs for and About Ghosts may deceive first-time listeners. The third full-length album from Memphis couple Zachary and Denny Wilkerson Corsa as Nonconnah, the 50-minute record is split into four near-equal movements, each brandishing an evocative title—“At the End of Everything, At the Edge of Nothing,” for instance, or “To Follow Us Through Fields of Lightning.” Sample the start of each piece, and Songs for and About Ghosts scans as an eerie electroacoustic beauty. Field recordings of ecstatic choirs or enthusiastic tourist advertisements burble through florid synths or scrims of static, like Philip Jeck taking up residence in DJ Shadow’s stacks.
But those movements are subdivided into five gestural miniatures with subtitles of their own, though they’re not listed on Spotify or Apple Music. Each bit lasts two minutes or so. Sometimes, they are as distinct and disconnected as letters of the alphabet; other times, Nonconnah transition between them so methodically it feels like watching the numbers spin ever higher on an old analog gas pump. The first track pirouettes from triumphant choral samples to luminous glitches and chimes, then jumps abruptly into bludgeoning power electronics that subside into what sounds like baby circuits suckling on electrons. The strings come in, and the track slowly escapes Earth’s orbit, like some leftover from Eno’s Apollo mission. Every piece follows that basic Godspeed You! Black Emperor-like premise, taking a long route of unexpected detours between two vaguely related musical ideas.
That template is like a condensed version of what someone might experience during a day—a volatile admixture of wonder, worry, irritation, and angst that affirms none of our feelings are ever fixed. It could also be a real-time score for scrolling your timeline, bouncing between stories that might enrage, fascinate, or gratify you all within the course of a few minutes. The second movement, “Changed in Autumn’s Feral Depths,” flows from a seraphic hum to a pair of tinfoil-hat brigadiers raving about EMP and chemtrail conspiracies. Owen Pallett’s strings float in over Zachary Corsa’s halting electric guitar but stall the moment they start to seem unambiguously hopeful. It’s as though Pallett recognizes that unguarded optimism is just another opportunity to be let down.
The real lure of Nonconnah’s nonlinear approach is how many layers and ideas there are to uncover here. Historically, this sort of electroacoustic music can be proudly (and often wonderfully) didactic, tracing tiny variations on a single idea for an hour or more. Once they’ve dipped into a sound, for instance, Christian Fennesz, Claire M. Singer, and Francisco Lopez aren’t prone to jar you with something entirely unexpected; instead, they slowly shift the focus to reveal a new level of detail inherent in the sound.
But Nonconnah work like magpies, webbing together their own idiosyncratic renditions of sounds they love. That hyper-distorted barrage of noise during “Fields of Lightning” recalls the pummel of Birchville Cat Motel, softened from beneath by neon synthesizers. The hiccupping guitar-and-Casio loop that opens “At the End of Everything” sounds like The Postal Service fed through William Basinski’s tape heads. One particularly vertiginous span toward the middle of closer “The Willow and the Meeting Twain” feels like Oval’s Markus Popp using field recordings of American county fairs as musical grist. Yes, that’s a lot of references (if only a tiny sample), but that’s the joy Songs for and About Ghosts—it’s a slow-motion carousel of musical surprises, with each new sound causing you to reconsider the context of what you’ve already heard.
The prolific Corsas have been making wide-screen experimental music for a decade under several names, often working with some mix of powerful drones and inquisitive field recordings. It has often been interior music, the result of a pair hunkered down in their home studio. But Songs for and About Ghosts feels like a revelation within their catalogue because it understands the multivalence of our times, neatly encapsulating the idea that outrage, joy and most every other emotion coexist within a click. Songs for and About Ghosts is an overload of ideas and inspirations, each just as likely to pick you up as to slam you back down again.
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