Not all music aims for instant gratification. The new album by Dolphin Midwives, aka Portland harpist Sage Fisher, is the kind of record you develop a connection with over time—Liminal Garden requires patience and attention.
The album, which Fisher releases this week at a show at Mississippi Studios, marks a departure from the comparative harmony of her 2016 release, Orchid Milk. The songs on Orchid Milk are all longer than five minutes; the compositions on Liminal Garden are much shorter. You can lose yourself in Orchid Milk's lush yet familiar soundscapes, but Liminal Garden is less relaxing—Fisher actively resists traditional song structures, so you can't predict the flow of each song. In that sense, Liminal Garden is a cultivated soundscape that wordlessly reflects the global zeitgeist of anxiety.
Related: Introducing Dolphin Midwives
Throughout the album, Fisher uses strings and abstract, Celtic-inspired vocals with pedal loops and anti-nostalgic synthesizers. Despite the Old World, Edenic instrumentation, Liminal Garden is Dolphin Midwives' least Enya-like project to date, and recalls The Matrix more than Annie Lennox-style serenity.
Liminal Garden concerns itself with disrupting the accepted. The album explores ranges of depth, frequency and sounds in nonlinear constructs—"Temple V" is a host of gongs, chimes and bells. The arrangements often flow in three or more directions at a time, yet they rarely arrive at a wholly unknown realm. It's a study in resonance that tests acceptable limits of dissonance, without completely forsaking listenability.
If you're into the micro-trend of medieval instrumentals in mainstream music, you might see space for yourself in Fisher's experiments. If you're an audiophile or music theorist, you're going to be enthralled by her new album. For the casual headphone listener, though, Liminal Garden can seem a little esoteric. But it would be a disservice to limit something so site-specific and experiential to a single setting. It's easy to imagine Liminal Garden soundtracking someone's yoga or meditation practice or, in the case of "Grass Grow," models working the runway. Dolphin Midwives' shows are singular events, and hearing the music live will be an experience onto its own.
Besides, Liminal Garden eventually develops its own discernible patterns. Ultimately, it's not an album that evades meaning or connection, it's just more interested in the journey than the destination.
SEE IT: Dolphin Midwives plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., mississippistudios.com, with Gamelan Wahyu, on Thursday, Jan. 17. 8 pm. $8 advance, $10 day of show. 21+.