Casey van Wensem is a composer and multi-instrumentalist hailing from Canada. Under the moniker The Bird’s Companion, he creates lush, evolving soundscapes ranging from grandiose post-rock to minimal piano. The nomadic nature of a sole musician is always an exciting venture, with each release representing the ever-growing potential of the artist. For van Wensem’s most recent EP, he decided to steer away from the multi-instrumentalist works he’s done previously and instead focus on the musical ability of a sole piano.
RELEASE DATE: 13 May 2016 LABEL: Self-released
Still Life is a four-song EP with each song encompassing its own theme and meaning. The songs together represent the feeling of stillness, and are the musical exploration of the idea of a “still life” painting. When diving into this release, I questioned whether the songs should be considered pieces of the same puzzle or completely separate entities altogether. Much to my surprise, the songs connect through the ways they are different.
The first telling of what these differences are comes when the first hammer strikes on “Twelve Sunflowers”. You can tell from early on in the track that there are multiple layers of piano, some strong and heavy-handed while others softly buzz in the background. Strong, reverberating chords contrast the more delicate notes as the track continues, and each layer builds upon the next to create a beautifully whole song. What makes this feat even more impressive is the fact that one could pull so many intricacies from one instrument and tie them together to form a new piece of music within each song. Van Wensem wasn’t attempting to master the instrument, he was attempting to know it.
Each song feels like a new experimentation displayed on the old and worn upright piano van Wensem used to make the EP. While “Twelve Sunflowers” highlighted fragility, “Negative Space” delivers the quieter sounds of Still Life. This EP struck me because of its attention to detail, and this focal point is heightened on the minimalist effort this song produces. With each second carefully considered, the somber chord progression made every note count, giving way to the more personal, intimate parts of the release.
“Impressions” diverges from the mood on “Negative Space” by encapsulating a completely new feeling. The feeling of “Impressions” is much like the feeling of sun on your skin: warm, comforting, and revitalizing. I love the way the piano keys dance around the central melody, provoking the sense of wanderlust and adventure within each note. “Watercolor Waterfalls” keeps the uplifting nature from the previous song, but this time focusing on a much more playful element of music. The curious melody invites you to listen further, and the wealth of emotion brought forth keeps you listening until the end. “Watercolor Waterfalls” felt the most cinematic to me, and the energy put forth into the emotional depth of this song attests to that statement.
Still Life is an impressive result to the extensive exploration of a sole piano. Each song is its own excavation onto its canvas, with every subtle nuance as the songs progress representing tiny brushstrokes filling the frame. The songs themselves represent the essence of still life paintings, but the meanings of the EP go much deeper than that. Still Life is a symbol of hope and a symbol of life itself. There have been times where most of us have lost hope in some way, and even the most stricken can wake up and remember that there is still life. The heavy emotional impact is the direct result of the time, effort, and compassion van Wensem had for his art, and it’s the reason we can draw such significant meaning from it.