Christina Vantzou - No. 2 | Album Review | By Volume

Gotta get out, before my heart explodes. Candy Says - Not Kings

Christina Vantzou

No. 2

An at times foggy journey that is deceptively calming and always a joy to get lost in.

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Author: on February 24, 2014

Memories can be shut away, paraded on display or constantly re-examined, though they’ll never truly exist in the present again. The past stays put, while we eventually evolve and our perspective changes. Time may shine new light upon remnants of the past in our heads, and all there is to do is explore reshaped memories with no actions to take; Attempts to mould them are glaring and self-deceptive, so resign to simple observation we must. When recollections change, it’s not unusual that we would feel unlike ourselves as we walk through them. It’s as if a thin veil separates retrospection from reality, plotting a slight distance between ourselves and our experiences. Whether Christina Vantzou intended as such or otherwise, No. 2 concerns the exploration of memories, embodying all these principles of a past that doesn’t belong to us. Yet because the ambiguity is portrayed so vividly, these memories might as well be ours, dovetailing with what we once held as our own, reconstructing the path we left behind us.

There are few points on No. 2 that hold any semblance of clarity; The beginning, “Anna Mae” is innocent and graceful in its overture to our character, cleansing and baptising us, stripping us to our core essence that shall awaken in this forest and rediscover itself. It’s followed by our first footsteps, uncertain and curious piano notes on “Going Backwards to Recover What was Left Behind”, unfurling into a need, an obligation to heading forth. Vantzou brews intent most potently at this point of the record, as layers of strings elegantly overlap, treading on no toes in a dazzling, swirling dance as the piano takes to the side to look on. Whereas the majority of No. 2 is spent wondrously lost, wandering in amazement, the opening is definitive. The close is as lucid as the open, as the ambience of “Vostok” snowballs through morose textures of acceptance, soaring with regret. Finally, “The Magic of the Autodidact” reads as a summary, a patchwork theme stitched together from the uncertainties that gave us worry, the hope that spurred us on, the unfathomable gravity of our choices and the tranquillity victory promised.

Everything in between is staggeringly fluid. So fleeting are the sounds that appear, it’s as if fog surrounds us and moments reveal their presence in the present only, leaving us without the capacity to anticipate their approach or consider their passing. The past becomes as unknown as the future, there’s just a series of presently-occurring experiences pieced into a disintegrating tail, like leaving a breadcrumb trail through an aviary. Without this bigger picture in sight, moments naturally magnetise and interweave with each other and seem so right at the time – the multi-stage “Brain Fog” juxtaposes calm with anxiousness yet the on-edge feeling dissipates so easily we listeners are none-the-wiser. “VHS” is another layer of this, holding one of the only solo vocal contributions on the record, standing apart from a chamber choir context with vaguely Middle Eastern exoticism. Substantial departure from the rest of No. 2 notwithstanding, it isn’t conspicuous in the slightest.

The off-colour nostalgia is reminiscent of Braid and Fable, insomuch that No. 2 retreads old grounds with cold introspection, searching for comfort in a place once familiar with a shadow cast upon its delicate history. Gravely looking back with melancholia-tinted glasses, “Sister” is the record’s climax, if it can be called that. Though it retains the misty facets of No. 2, it incites the most tangible feelings. It’s a return to home years after leaving, a home one no longer belongs in, a home that belongs to us no more. Coated in pretenses that gradually slip away, it’s a slow dawning of wistful choir refrains and solacing bassoon lilts. Each pluck of a string is a light kiss to comfort the realisation some things will never stay as they were. It isn’t an upsetting ordeal, as the confident rhythm and shrilling woodwind signal a strengthening bond, a learning experience.

Created over a four-year span, Vantzou originally composed No. 2 using synthesisers and heavily-manipulated samples before reconstructing and augmenting it with a fifteen-person ensemble. It no wonder then, the way No. 2 sounds like new light shining upon old memories, thoughts which have morphed and mutated in subtle ways undetected on immediate scrutiny. Though intended as one cohesive piece, the evanescent nature of the works between the start and finish make the album a great listen on shuffle too; We’ve walked down memory lane before, yet we can never know what we’ll find as pieces trigger other pieces and we mightn’t make sense of the jumps between them for an indefinite length of time. In the same way, the album seamlessly fades in and out of itself regardless of intentions. Despite its distant, nullifying nature, it strangely works as a remedy for the scrambled mind, gently healing, rejuvenating and reinvigorating. It isn’t re-purposing, and it isn’t necessarily constructive either. Like memories, the sounds that present themselves are often transient, evasive and difficult to grasp let alone define. To what function No. 2 serves remains a mystery, though Vantzou’s (and our) journey is to be savoured while it lasts — don’t let the moment pass.

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