It was hard initially to put my finger on what made The Pass and Crossings, the latest full-length by Chicago trio Pillars and Tongues, sound so striking. The gravity in the lyrics, the sparse arrangements, the yearning for something just beyond reach – it’s a deep, delightfully sincere, yet somehow primitive state that is reached.
The trio of Evan Hydzik, Elizabeth Remis, and Mark Trecka all sing at various points, and their instrumental repertoire consists mostly of strings droning, harmonium, and sparse percussion. The songs don’t work toward crescendos per se – it seems they would prefer not to begin or end at all.
Opener “A Dance In The Billowing Absence“ is a mystical dirge, a hypnotic chant shot through with melismatic vocal inflections. Strings overtake glacially, sparsely. The mysterious Oaky plays the role of the obscure muse here, addressed in two songs, “Thank You, Oaky” and “Oaky (Doting),”with elegiac praise. “The Making Graceful” contains an entrancing and more rhythmic extended ending leading up to the wistful closer “Decadent Crossing.”
At some point around “The Making Graceful” I realized how grateful I was for the band’s austere aesthetic. There’s no room for the long-decay fake-sounding reverb that mars many attempts at trancy medieval jamming. There’s no room for anything except the band, eminently together and radiating forward. Pillars and Tongues are clearly after something very pure, and all the band’s decisions work toward that noble goal here.