Noted Los Angeles musician, composer, and producer Paul Roessler (The Screamers, Nina Hagen, Josie Cotton, Mike Watt and a whole bunch more) has released a deeply moving new album of original material, The Turning of the Bright World, on the Kitten Robot Records label. It is an album in which the artist looks at the world with enough time, depth and compassion to ‘notice it’s turning’, and then has a bit to say about what he sees. It is a beautiful commentary – lyrically, musically and even from the spaces between the words and music.Last week, watching an interview with Robert Smith, from 1981 (or 2) I think, he was asked if critics were correct in comparing The Cure’s music to Pink Floyd. (Yeah, somebody asked that). Rather than engage on the observation, Smith responded, “It’s really unimaginative to say one band is like another. It just means you don’t really understand the music or have anything original to say.” Which created a challenging mindset for sitting down to write this review – because I felt like I did understand the music, and I did want to have something original to say about it.
So, I don’t know if it’s a success (from Smith’s perspective) or not, that as I was listening to The Turning, I wasn’t thinking in terms of comparison to other composers, performers, songs or albums. In fact, I felt that it would be doing a disservice to all the time Roessler spent composing, writing, recording something so uniquely beautiful if I tried to explain my take by resorting to ‘sounds like’ comparisons with other artists music.
But I was struck by an awareness of work in other media from mature artists offering up expressions of their own resonance with life. Carl Rogers’ On Becoming a Person came to mind for its gentle pointing out that what we tend to feel is most personal about ourselves as individuals, is in fact most generally shared in (private) common with the rest of humanity; Roger Angell’s Late Innings with its awareness of how the softening illumination of a slow arriving dusk somehow pulls into clearer view what we thought we saw so well at midday – and then recognize we may have never known at all; and Fellini’s La Dolce Vita in it’s episodic fever dream of life’s comedies and tragedies intertwined in a cautionary tale that can be as profound as one wants it to be, without ever pointing or preaching. Those comparisons say nothing about the music – thank you Mr. Smith. But they do, intentionally, share an idea of the level of art taking place.
The Turning of the Bright World is an album without a weakness. That isn’t saying it is the best album ever made, or claims any standing relative to the other parts or wholes of Roessler’s solo or collaborative work. What I am suggesting is that it stays within itself in terms of scope and tone. And trust me, the scope and the tone are fantastic.
When mentioning this wonderful sense of integration and continuity, which seemed like an unrecorded bridge between all of the songs, I think I didn’t express my concept well. Roessler remarked that it wasn’t his intention to have a ‘repetitious or monochromatic sounding album’. It’s for certain neither of those things. It is, though, cohesive and coherent. And that aura of cohesion takes the listener to a certain plateau of life, then turns its gaze, left then right, up and down, inward and outward – and never jars them out of the sense of openness (to seeing, hearing and feeling) that the music and his vocals (across 13 very sonically and rhythmically distinctive songs) induce.
Asked if he has any intention to perform this album live, because, again, for me, it feels all of a piece, Roessler offered ‘Live performance, and working in the studio, composing, trying out voicing and lyrics, pulling meaning from deep in the subconscious as you are singing, discovering character – are two distinctive forms’. That is a fascinating response, because The Screamers were solely a live act with no studio recordings to ‘document’ their body of work. There was something couched in all of that about the power of intention – and went again straight to the love I feel for this album. As he put it, ‘I made this without someone from a record company looking at their watches. No time constraints.’ Again, a fascinating juxtaposition. The Screamers possibly uncomfortable with the constraint of the studio – and a Screamer, learning to find his freedom there.
He also pointed out that for this project he played all of the instruments on 8 of the 13 songs – so that any attempt at a live ‘recreation’ would of necessity be something different from the start. And at that point I felt I was given a glimpse back into the passion and integrity where his musical journey started.
If you have been a fan of Paul Roessler, or the groups he has played in, since the 1970’s I think you will feel The Turning of the Bright World is the organic, truthful, next step to all of it. If this is your first exposure – it is an excellent place to begin. I was going to use a phrase something like ‘the summation of a life’s work’, but that feels like it is some kind of full stop and my sense is, whether from a studio or live, there is a lot more coming from this artist.
Other musicians, composers and lyricists who contributed to the compositions and performances on The Turning of the Bright World include: Cherish Alexander, Bob Lee, Chain Rochester, Joe Berardi, Nathan York, Paul Boutin and Rowan Roessler.
All Photos by Rachel Roessler