Thuja - Hills LP
Label: Rose Hobart
Rose Hobart present a reissue of Thuja's 2002 album, Hills. The album emerged out of a particularly productive phase for the loose assemblage of musicians known as the Jewelled Antler Collective. Glenn Donaldson and Loren Chasse, who had recently formed Thuja alongside Steven R. Smith and Rob Reger, were dialing down the volume, moving away from the instrumental rock interludes of previous groups like Mirza, and exploring more rugged terrain – laminal improvisation, wistful wide-eyed folk songs, field recordings, and home-recorded electro-acoustics. By 2002, Jewelled Antler had developed a certain notoriety for unstintingly releasing excellent, small-run CD-R releases. Thuja's albums had been picked up by Craig Stewart's visionary Emperor Jones imprint, but Hills was released on a small-scale American CD-R label, Last Visible Dog, run by Chris Moon. Of the four albums (and two more mini-CDs) Thuja released that year, Hills is a startling document, a collection of eviscerated dream tones and cavernous psychoacoustics. The unforced, luxuriant development of Thuja's music – a misty fold of keyboard drones, tinkling piano, clusters of percussion, shuttling and scrabbling strings and other things – often asks for metaphor from the natural world. But this is also distinctly city-based music, as Donaldson described it: "insular warehouse music from a still affordable city, before the internet dominated everything. No intention of getting noticed or 'streamed,' just making sounds for the sake of it. A rejection of rock things: clubs, structure, volume." The music on Hills and other, loosely contemporaneous releases often played on broken instruments and non-instruments, with small, sensual details captured by contact mics, was "all improvised," Donaldson recalls, "but no 'jamming' or soloing [was] allowed, just a slow evolution towards a mood." In that respect, Thuja can lay claim to a heritage of all-in-one, group-mind improvisation that arcs back to AMM and Musica Elettronica Viva, but also connects with other, less immediately recognizable precursors – there are shades here of groups like Biota, or composer Sofia Gubaidulina's improvisatory outfit Astreja. There's a relaxed yet questing folksiness too.