All too often in today’s digital music giga-market, artists will cobble together half-baked ideas into meager virtual packages and pander them as "EPs." What we have here, however, is a full-fledged suite, “Moab at Sunset” in three parts, from composer (yes, composer) Jonathan Miller, a.k.a. Hand Sand Hands.
It’s not as harsh as John Cage, nor as infinite as Steve Reich, but The Shipping Forecast follows in the avant-garde tradition of stripping music down rather than building it up. Though rich with textures—swirling violins, warm woodwinds, goliath organs, a single hammered piano note—the piece remains as stark and bare as sun-dried bones in the desert. No melody binds the collection; instead, a single refrain (“Lift your head/ For me now/ Show me on my way”) suggests this sunset-drenched soundscape is the wilderness we must cross to reach our pilgrimage’s end.
The opening track sets the scene and captures through fragile piano taps and shivering violin (courtesy of Elephant 6 session dude John Fernandes) both the perils that await and the solace that follows. By the second tune, a haunting drone snowballs into a massive cliff wall.
The last trials that stand between us and sanctuary—the heavy tread of ivory, woodwind squalls—swirl together on the final track, before dropping us gently to our shelter. The Shipping Forecast is a studied work of somber and, at its most tempestuous moments, jaw-dropping beauty. 4 out of 5.