“The homesickness you have when you are still at home.” That is how Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht pithily explains the meaning of solastalgia, a word he coined as a way of conveying the “feeling of chronic distress caused by negatively perceived changes to a home and its landscape”. Others have referred to this feeling as “climate grief” or “Anthropocene anxiety”. Unlike the more related concept of nostalgia, which is a longing for places and memories in our past, solastalgia speaks the the pain we feel in the here & now as the environments in which we live are face threats from rising sea levels, destructive storms, pollution, and over-development.
It is a poignant neologism that acknowledges that so much more than money, property and convenience are lost when the places we call home are under duress or undergo negative transformation. The impact on communities, landscapes, and ecosystems can have profound personal, societal & cultural effects as well as violating the sense of place that resides at the core of our very well-being. It is point that is being driven home in a personal way as this review is being written in Virginia while a ferocious category 4 hurricane churns in the open Atlantic keeping millions of us on edge for days on end waiting to see whether and where it will inflict its damage.
But, as Victor Hugo once famously said, “music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent” and the latest album by Rafael Anton Irisarri shows just how powerful a vehicle music can be for expressing the soul deep pain of solastalgia in ways that mere words could not. In fact, it is hard to imagine anyone better suited to the task. Irisarri has reflected deeply and unflinchingly on environmental and existential themes on recent albums such as The Shameless Years (2017, Umor Rex) and Midnight Colors (2018, Geographic North) as well as earlier works like The Unintentional Sea (2013) and A Fragile Geography (2015) each released on the Room40 imprint which brings us Solastalgia as well.
“It’s here, at this fractious nexus of unpredictability and an absence of control that Rafael Anton Irisarri has created his latest work. Building on the echoes of landscape that guided his previous Room40 editions, ‘Solastalgia’ imagines that which is not yet known. It traces possible terminus points for futures that many of us will not live to see. Utilizing a range of unexpected variables, automations and uncontrolled systems in the creation of the recordings, Irisarri has developed a new approach to his work, seamlessly weaving together intense layers of texture and saturated harmony.” – Room40
The album is essentially a suite in six movements and it is a potent sonic brew on a colossal scale as Irisarri conjures densely layered walls of sound as imposing as the storms that inspired their construction, but what makes the music so compelling is the strong emotional grounding and resolute stillness he infuses into every composition. He puts us in the eye of the hurricane, so to speak, wide-eyed and self-aware even as we are surrounded by forces with a power we can scarcely comprehend. It is an impressive musical distillation of being awe-struck, angry, sad, and helpless all at once and a masterful fusion of composition, artistic expression, and sound design that will leave you pondering its impact long after the storm clouds have dissipated.
Solastaglia was originally released in two LP editions which are sold out at this writing – a standard black and a limited edition clear vinyl accompanied by a cassette containing a second suite of music. The video above for “Coastal Trapped Disturbance” was filmed by Sean Curtis Patrick while on assignment in Iceland in February of 2019.