Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars is Sarah Louise’s most fearless work to date. Louise broadens beyond folk forms on her latest, turning streams of raw electric guitar into entire oceans of aural texture. Her rich playing is warped beyond recognition through inventive synthesizing and digital manipulations. The innovative songs share warmth and compositional tendencies with Deeper Woods; however, remarkably, Sarah Louise’s stunning sophomore Thrill Jockey album breaks through the boundaries of solo guitar, bearing little resemblance to its predecessors.
The pieces on Nighttime Birds mine components of the Appalachian folk music Louise is steeped in, as well as spiritual jazz, contemporary classical, and new age, while drawing intensely personal inspiration from the natural world. “Ancient Intelligence” ruminates on the power of and connection to Mother Earth through wordless, almost alien skitters. For Louise, the natural and the psychedelic are indelibly linked through their ability to provide healing. Drawing inspiration from a profound healing experience she had, Sarah assembled the pieces in dedication to that healing. Compositions exude spiritual relief and exploration, as they are both explorative musically and soothing in their gentle, delicate details. Moments of surreal intensity bubble forth on tracks like “Chitin Flight” which stoke curiosity and provide flares of tension and relief. Pieces like this offer Louise’s unique take on what a guitar solo can be while also whimsically playing with guitar tropes of the psychedelic era.
Technically she approached performance on the album in a patulous manner, improvising on electric guitar in standard tuning, rather than her signature 12-string acoustic guitar and song-specific tunings. This radically different approach for Sarah was in and of itself liberating as well as inspiring. Louise carried this intuitional mindset with her into recording new pieces. Like Deeper Woods, she engineered the album herself, but with a new focus on innovative use of her recording program. With her improvisations as the raw material, she carefully crafted deliberate compositions that are her most painterly and cosmic work to date. Sampling herself, Louise’s approach to composing with guitar magnifies single notes, short patterns and overtones to reveal microtonality and otherworldly timbres. Frayed rhythms flow freely atop and between lush waves of devotional drones. Variations in speed and tone transform the guitar across the album from brassy bellows to the sounds of rustling insects.
Louise’s daring blend of heartfelt stream of conscious playing and bold studio processing demonstrates her unique ability to craft poignant music regardless of what tools she uses. She finds harmony rather than dissonance in synthesizing raw and organic materials with the technological. Sections of electronic bursts swell and ebb with a lifelike pulse, collapsing distinction between the natural and artificial. Each piece inhabits its own biosphere and Louise’s guitar and voice act as the flora and fauna. With Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars, Sarah Louise has reimagined the limitations of guitar music to create a work of sublime resplendence.