Review by Iann Robinson
The dark figure dressed in black, strumming his guitar and echoing melancholy tales of life and loss. It can be a recipe for disaster. Pitfalls of pretension lurk around every corner. To pull it off you need a spirit that’s a patchwork of various life experience. Cue Steve Von Till, one of the architects of iconic underground band Neurosis, and a man who has been releasing his own folk-soaked solo albums for years. His latest offering, A Life Unto Itself feels largely like the culmination of all that he’s gone through. Touring. Music. Life. Pain. Loss. It’s all here, built on an album that manages to expand to different musical areas, without losing its dark and folky focus.
Von Till has always built his music on textures. From the bombastic creations of Neurosis, to the eerie introspective guitar strum of his solo albums, he’s always building a landscape. A Life Unto Itself captures emotion with multiple instruments, but also with negative space. “In Your Wings” begins simply enough, with Von Till’s graveled voice warbling between deliberate guitar strokes. As the song progresses other textures are added. A slide guitar combines with a dark feedback to bring a sense of foreboding to the song.
Whenever an artist does anything worth checking out, there is always a journey involved. Von Till guides us through the journey, allowing A Life Unto Itself to be his most personal record but still universal enough to touch the individual. The title track is somber, delivered with single notes and heavy strums holding up Von Till’s vocals. While the music and ideas are very much his own, the lyrics and emotion behind the song are universal. We can all identify with wanting our lives to be our own, on our own terms and with out apology.
As the album rolls on, Von Till continues adding new textures. A Language Of Blood is instrumental, until the grand finale. Night Of The Moon holds together via a delayed guitar track accompanied at first by a single, spectral-sounding solo that fits nicely between slow washes of noise. Birch Cark Box steps away from the cacophony, returning Von Till to a delicate balance between acoustic and electric guitars. Known But Not Named is a powerful ending for the album, but doesn’t lose the delicate textures Von Till has worked so hard to weave together. Even as the noise comes in, it never overpowers the musicianship.
A Life Unto Itself is another tremendous step in Von Till’s artistic journey.
You can find more at Vontill.org