Label: Anima Recordings
Release Date: 31 January 2020
Folian is a project maintained by its sole composer, David Fylstra, and is just one of his many musical endeavors, followed closely by his collaborations with Canadensis, Ramprasad, KVØID, Bible Black Tyrant, The Stargazer Lilies, and Fresian, all of which are artists signed with Anima Recordings, a heavy/experimental label owned and operated by Fylstra himself. In addition to Anima Recordings, Fylstra also manages Candlewolfe Sound, an audio mixing and post-production service that was once located in an old cabin in the Pennsylvanian wilderness before his transfer to Oregon. Self-proclaimed musician, composer, sound designer, audio engineer, record label owner, and visual artist, the Pennsylvania-born Portlander indeed seems to most often spend his time mixing and mastering ambient soundscapes for himself and others when not standing waist-deep in a river or burying himself in the dirt.
Little can be said about previous entries in Folian’s discography, a series of singles followed by 2019’s four-track Ache Pillars EP. A lack of lyrics (other than the occasional mumble or half-scream), slow and hazy beats, a floating synth always on the verge of playing a note but not quite achieving it, and a variety of peculiar sounds resembling squirrels and birds outside a lumber mill all culminate to make a uniquely rich sound that seems to mean both everything and nothing. Rarely are distinct rhythms achieved and this is predominantly through the use of the guitar, if one is used at all. The majority of Folian’s work relies on minimalism and an almost primal playfulness as if it was recordings of the first humans to discover music, curious and uncertain, mimicking the sounds around them rather than creating their own. Less than a year after his success with the Ache Pillars EP, Folian returns with Blue Mirror, his first full-length album.
The album gently hums to life with This is the Place, a series of electrical buzzes and simulated didgeridoos introducing the tracks to follow. When Go Alone starts, it is immediately apparent that Folian’s previous EP was just a warm-up. A slightly awkward guitar rhythm is constant while hums and what sounds like the rattling of maracas combine with Fylstra’s muttering and raspy vocals. Every few bars, something new is added, the track going from simple and unsure to a heavier and somewhat angry mood, showing that Folian’s soft and meditative state has evolved into a blackened and droning shoegaze. The ending fades and blends into the beginning of Away, a slow but brief growl of feedback supported with what sounds like other instrumentalists tuning guitars and testing high hats, unaware that they were being recorded during this short interlude. I am You supplies more enchanting and wandering strums of the guitar aided by slowly rolling percussion, the track bobbing along in a black river before all goes quiet, just long enough for Fylstra to get out a barely recognizable sentence that brings the droning darkness back again. It is uncertain what instruments are in play here, all sounds melding together and covering each other, even Fylstra appearing to be two-toned, his lonesome voice drowned out by the feedback and his own harshly screaming echo. By the end, all is quiet again save for an acoustic bolstered by a howl and peculiar taps and knocks, and it is uncertain how it ended up here. The feeling of peace and serenity returns with Further-Give, a guitar played out of time while Fylstra quietly sings out a song perhaps meant only for him. The moment he is discovered, the playing stops, leaving nothing but empty and wavering notes on a synth, giving off the faintest sense that the listener is not welcome here.
The latter half of the album is significantly longer than the first half and these songs are more developed not just in length but execution as well. With no fanfare, Unwanted begins with Fylstra singing his clearest yet, though the buzzing feedback quickly covers him again, his calming echo contrasting with the drone of the guitar, new notes played the moment the feedback from the ones previous die down. An attentive listener might be able to make out the occasional lyric, but it is much more rewarding to appreciate the rich complexity of Fylstra’s voice itself and how it creates a harmonious clash with the fuzzy, almost doom-like guitars. The beginning of No Wake almost sounds like nothing at all, a mysterious and creeping hum slowly rising in volume the entire first minute of the track before Fylstra finally makes his presence known, metaphorically stepping out from behind the black velvet curtain, acoustic in hand. He brushes away the ever-encroaching darkness with his clear and mellow voice, reversing echoes and rising reverb constantly invading the space during this ballad that teeters between deeply sad and oddly comforting. At ten and a half minutes, Erasure is the longest track on the album, but Fylstra wastes no time with empty intros, instead bringing in a wavering sound to his guitar and methodical mechanized hisses from the synth, creating a sequel or companion piece to This is the Place. His voice rings out in its usual saddened call, eventually aided by alternating rhythms inspired by black metal and shoegaze. Halfway through, he raises his voice for the first time, his quiet rage doing lots of favors for the aching guitar riffs and insistent hisses of the synth, all sounds reaching a crescendo and finally but slowly dying off. The final track, Tomorrow, begins with the final seconds of fadeout from Erasure, stubbornly played behind a single acoustic. When the fadeout ends, Fylstra seems to get more into playing, but as a slowly rising drone creeps up from the back of the track, he stops playing entirely, seemingly out of frustration, leaving the last 30 seconds of the track and the album in silence.
If one was to classify Folian’s previous songs as music, it would be using the most brutal definition of the word. The Ache Pillars EP is not music for listening but rather for filling the silence. With Blue Mirror, Folian has decidedly stepped into a more listener-friendly territory, taking various cues from drone and shoegaze while mixing elements of post-metal and black metal to create a sound that lies somewhere between Deafheaven and Tool. While difficult to get into without being labeled “that” person, Folian produces music that deserves to be heard and doesn’t want to be understood. His soundscapes are a black blur smeared across the walls of the recording booth while he stands under a single uncovered lightbulb, patiently figuring out the words to a song he once knew. Give him a few minutes, and maybe he’ll remember. Until then, just enjoy the sound of anything but silence.
- David S. Fylstra – guitar, voice, synth, all sounds
- This is the Place
- Go Alone
- I am You
- No Wake