Cory Allen – Pearls
Cory Allen’s ‘Pearls’ is one of those albums that don’t want you to get too comfortable. The album’s press release suggests that it explores ‘existential landscape’ – two words I don’t think I’ve ever seen put together before with regards to music, but somehow fitting. The album is not exactly inviting but isn’t cold either. It is an album that has a clearly defined narrative in a way that I haven’t seen in quite some time. Allen is always working toward an end goal and there is an almost existential philosophical statement in this small self-contained album.
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‘Pearls’ is an album that takes you gently by the hand before it drags you to somewhere strange and ominous. The first few minutes of opener ‘Strange Birds’ have a mysterious quality that has you intrigued but not sure you are on steady ground. The album opens with the low hum of static and sparse bass transmissions. Slowly a shimmering melody enters and we aren’t sure where we are going. Is this place safe? Will it be eerily beautiful or beautifully eerie? What’s amazing is that the artist refuses to give us answers to any of these questions. And this is where Allen begins his tightrope walk balancing the cerebral and the emotional. This place is foreign, we know that much. But instead of the gentle melody, it’s that hum of static that wins out. The safety net is taken away and we are taken to a world that seems almost post-apocalyptic where everything feels cold and unfamiliar.
Songs 2 and 3, ‘Lost Energizer’ and ‘Isozaki Clouds’, continue us down this dark path. Wherever we are, it’s not easy. It’s not familiar. We are intrigued. But safe? No. Still, Allen is showing us something and he is pulling off a hell of balancing act to keep it all in check. And then the static disappears and we are left with that melody. But as it turns out, it’s not that safe either. In it’s new context, it’s as threatening as that static hum. Then you realize exactly where you are. You are alone with your thoughts and completely surrounded by the real world around you. And this is what Allen does so well: he creates and introspective album that begs the same sort of introspection from the listener.
The album slowly unfurls to closer ‘Blue Eyes’, the album’s least foreboding song. It’s a song with rich beauty, and yet, still always restrained. But it invites connection rather than introspection. It’s Allen’s way of letting you go: I’ve shown you a place you don’t quite feel comfortable with – now go re-connect, it seems to say.
‘Pearls’ is an incredibly focused release that shows Allen pulling off a high-wire act that risks falling into austerity on one hand and sentimentalism on the other. But never does the album miss a step. Did I like being in this place; this is existential landscape? Yes, but I never felt comfortable. And will I go back? Many times over, I’m sure.