Mára: the shadow that sings

Record: Here Behold Your Own (2019)

The forest road,
The infinite straight road stretching away
World without end: the breathless road between the walls
Of the black listening trees: the hushed, gray road
Beyond the window that you shut to-night
Crying that you would look at it by day —
There is a shadow that sings and calls
But not for you…

from the poem “The Forest Road,” by Charlotte Mew (1869-1928), Complete Poems (Penguin Books, 2000)

Surrender. When we think of this idea in one form, it’s something done in the face of an enemy. The loss of power and possession — something terrible and negative and irreversible. Being forced into such a place is giving oneself over to the power of another, potentially leading into darkness and despair. This kind of surrender leads to the erosion of the self.

However, in another form, surrender becomes softer, a yielding into a shared intimacy of another. It becomes the discovery of a new self through the other. Surrender, as it unfolds in the sonic narrative and landscape of Mára’s (Faith Coloccia) luminous new record, “Here Behold Your Own” (SIGE Records, 2019), doesn’t imprison, it reveals. It becomes a mystical narrative into an artist’s transformation. The catalyst of this change is the birth of Coloccia’s child, the spark of which she can trace back to conception itself, as she reveals in her notes on Bandcamp. What emerges on this LP is a song-cycle of 14 tracks, “A New Young Birth,” Parts I-VII (Side I), and “Sangre de Cristo,” Parts I-VII (Side II), that flow like a medieval vigil, from one world into another — not a darkness into light, but rather from one light into another kind of light.

The path to illumination, surrender through 14 songs, takes many emotional forms, some with voice, some not. Like the sensation of floating high above oneself, almost shapeless and without definition, looking down across what was once a familiar landscape, inverted. What was known in a life halved becomes unknown — then, as these songs unfold, the road shifts back into perspective, into something defined and sharp again. Coloccia in acceptance if not outright joy. Like a book of hours, divided into nocturnes. And finally comes resolution — acceptance in the actual utterance of the word “surrender,” as in a labor, a lullaby, or a prayer.

A lot of the material that I used to make this record felt like the last glimpses of ‘me’ before I became another me. Almost as soon as I conceived, I felt the old me slipping away, and so these recordings … were like the last time spent with myself before I changed.

Faith Coloccia

The starting point of “Here Behold Your Own” comes from a cassette release, under a different title, from 2015. A very different self, before a life rearranged by the birth of a child. Many of the songs in this new release retain textures like sketches, rough drafts of thoughts captured quickly before each perfect moment of arrival vanishes, never, perhaps, intended as the stuff of final songs and records. Sketches made to be given to others to finish? It’s this scratchy, dream-like, pure atmosphere throughout that gives this record it’s almost heartbreaking weight of loss.

Facing the end of oneself carries deep sadness. However, this same quality is also what gives these songs their universal appeal. For example, all lives become divided into many selves, many halves, by so many events: the birth of a child, certainly, but also the death of a loved one, or the ending of a relationship, or the arrival of a life-changing illness. These and many more events are portals that create division. Beginnings and endings in the endless braiding together that becomes every life lived.

“Here Behold Your Own” opens with “A New Young Birth I,” a solitary piano playing far away, fragmentary, like a memory of a piano playing in snow or a cold stone building, arriving then trailing off, like a passing thought. There are no lyrics, as indeed there are none on many of the songs on this record (but not missed, as if the melodies are speaking anyway). “A New Young Birth II” is a cappella voicing, loops in two halves, lyrics difficult to parse. A solitary voice reminiscent of Coloccia’s Mamiffer vocal styling. Then organ music arrives on “Birth III,” fading away. “Birth IV” is again wispy a cappella, radiating a kind of dark lullaby or incantation… “Life spent in search of holy union…,” and the first utterance of the words: “surrender the way that bound me to you.” In “Birth VI” the organ returns again, this time in a processional, repeating the melody of the lullaby, almost formal, the coming birth felt (?), then shading into electronic shadows. Side I ends by returning to vocals barely discernible, but with sense of resolve (acceptance?).

Side II opens like a new day: “Sangre de Cristo.” Located and defined, in name if not fully in lyric. And the song cycle resumes with many of the same elements reappearing: piano as if from dreams, electronic shadows both soft and sharp, piano sounding as bells ringing in a distant stone tower (an announcement?), solo guitar striking first like wind over stone, then sweeping up into sky, into a wall of jagged peaks. And finally, the record returns to the solo a cappella lullaby voice of Coloccia, this time a plainsong of resolve as all gentleness is ground down into dust. The fragment by Robert Browning comes to mind: “Let there be an end.”

Does it matter that these songs might have come into this world for a different purpose other than this grouping on this record? The seasons shift. The shadows lengthen. One day becomes many. While the artist might be revealing in her thoughts about how this album came into being in her notes, this record remains elusive for the outsider. There’s more melancholy here than confident declaration in these 14 songs. But I think that’s probably the point. Is any birth, any change, fully understood? One instant a person isn’t here, then she is, then she’s gone again.

When leaving a landscape or memory comfortably known for something new and unknown, shrouded in hope and mystery, the only compass is the heart. “Here Behold Your Own” makes its own shadows and remains apart. In this world created by Faith Coloccia, with dark angels and listening trees, her shadows sing.