Record: The Brilliant Tabernacle (2019)
The album as a whole represents a mythical narrative: the hero’s descent into the darkness of the soul and the generational sickness of our current culture and its history, followed by the triumphant reunification with the primal deep of total love.Faith Coloccia (from her artist statement on Bandcamp)
Delving into the passionate, private, lyrical, and sonic world created by Faith Coloccia and her anagogic explorations in song, rune-like texts, and mystical visual art, sometimes expressed through her band, Mamiffer (although Coloccia can just as easily stand solo as a writer and visual artist), is not unlike returning to a time when the humanities, divinity, and natural philosophy were struggling to sort themselves out. Eventually they did: antiquity versus futurity, however, what we have today, in all of its terrible reality, desperately needs Coloccia’s healing vision, a new consciousness, in these smoking ruins of postmodernism. Contemporary thought has always been a recycling center, digging through the ancient world while searching for the next bold leap into the state-of-the-art. The root of Coloccia’s tree of life can be traced into the deep layers of her contemplative, cyclical, and mythical symbols of transformation found in all of her artistic pilgrimages.
If, through the language of her own statement about the location of The Brilliant Tabernacle (Sige Records, 2019), this record not only captures the hero’s journey, it also declares that by making such journeys we can reunite ourselves with a kind of new animism. Everything can be possessed by a new life, a new meaning. There is certainly the ascetic’s quality to Coloccia’s very real songwriting discipline; a separateness from our temporal world, both in the way she lives and works. In her songs there’s also something of the haunted and utterly unknowable place, illuminated most recently (and poetically) by Robert Macfarlane in his Underworld: A Deep Time Journey (W.W. Norton & Co., 2019). As for an ecstatic reference point, Coloccia’s sensitivity and perception, while not based on the text of a saint, is not too distant in feeling from Emma Kirkby’s “A Feather on the Breath of God” (Hyperion Records, 1985), a plainchant interpretation of the mystical visions of Hildegard of Bingen.
Perhaps the most significant clue can be found in the record’s title. The idea of a tabernacle today, a dwelling place and sanctuary, feels oddly contemporary but can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Here, the word itself has a built-in antiquity to it even as it adorns a modern recording — a journey’s destination as well as a place of contemplation. As employed by Coloccia, it locates her seven-track song cycle as a place of meeting and observing; a place of visions and exchanges between the living and the dead; a place of surrender and acceptance and ultimately, of unstoppable change and transformation. All of these ideas flow through the soft, filtered light of Coloccia’s voice, lyrics, piano, and through the casual contributions of Aaron Turner’s (Sumac, Old Man Gloom) stoic and sensual guitar.
The song cycle of “The Brilliant Tabernacle” opens with “All That Is Beautiful,” a song like a quickening, an invocation to begin, to enter with Coloccia into her timeless space, a place where consciousness spirals into something fluid with time and physical reality. Her world expands and contracts like the breath of the song. Then, “River of Light” moves into the celestial realm overhead. The stars become rain. Our bodies dissolve into particles. We’re both alone and in the company of ancestors. The roof of Coloccia’s tabernacle opens into a celestial portal. The predominately instrumental “So That the Heart May Be Known” becomes the timeless bridge, a question-filled pause. Everything has been broken down into constituent components, waiting. Coloccia asks: “How does it feel? What do you know? All one. How does it feel?”
We have arrived: the birth. In “Two Hands Together,” Coloccia narrates the transformation of lives when a child is born, both literally and figuratively. Here is the mystical center of her cycle; the feather on the breath of God. Mother and father braided together in their acceptance that their lives will never be the same. Next, “To Receive” becomes a procession of the dead, corruption and decay, a reminder that all life remains temporal. Conception becomes the catalyst of irreversible joy and suffering. “Hymn of Eros” quietly acknowledges that the entire process is blind, driven by questions and irresistible forces.
Finally, “To Be Seen” is to be known, and to know our place in the cycle. There will be battles and blessing, but the journey is one of questions. In Coloccia’s vision, we ascend into our true selves through a mixture of symbols and talismans; everything is alive, even as so many have gone before us into dust. Like the cimaruta mentioned in “To Receive,” root and branch and herb, hearts and keys and spirit animals, in the end the earth remains the cradle, the guide, and the protector, shaping our hours with whatever time we have.
“The Brilliant Tabernacle” unfolds as all of Mamiffer’s records have done, rich in symbolism and mystery and private vocabulary, each an invitation to think deeper about how we might define our lives, and what language we would choose to best sound, as Walt Whitman did in Leaves of Grass, our “…barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”