As reported last year, Mike Vass was working on a project called December Well, in which he wrote and recorded tunes inspired by the Scottish December. The result is an album of wintry wonder that is available on December 10.
The cleverly named "Wintro" opens the 41-minute masterpiece with the light sounds of the percussion mocking an icy land with singing cardinals and bells chiming. Soon Vass' guitar, set to just-as-clever "December Tuning" D-E-C-E-B-E, joins in for a melodical and hypnotic experience. The experimental and hauntingly beautiful nature of the intro is telling of the album's entirety. The second track "Looking Through" invites the reader to look through the window with ice crystals slowly forming around the edges out at the snowfall, recreated by the cyclical pitter-patter of snowflakes falling. Vass even lends his voice to carry a slight warmth with the chilly feeling, as if holding a mug of hot coffee. The creaking sounds of the bare trees lend their musical moans to the third track "Snowfall", a slow lazy tune mocking snowfall in its methodical, yet chaotic movement. "Slide" is the result of yet another experimental tuning, proving a bit darker. The crisp, yet, gliding sounds of the guitar evoke the emotion of sled riding down the hills (for me, though, it was the hills in the dense woods without telling my parents).
"Lights" is such a fun piece with its twinkling percussion and scurrying fiddle, recreating the various lights of winter, in the differing tempo of holiday lights, star lights, houses passing by while driving, and street lamps while strolling. Track 6 "Maxwell Park" is a casual stroll through the park with the sounds that come with it--whistling, keys jingling, bikes passing by, birds chirping, among other sounds. It's followed by the frolicking "Melter" with its thawing of snow and ice. I'm positive this should be used on a nature documentary where winter passes and spring pops up in its sped-up motion. "Pane" is interesting in that Vass actually recorded large hail hitting the window pane and incorporated it into the tune. And it completely works in producing visual imagery, as well as being a percussive sound. Another tune that would fit a sped-up nature documentary is "Cycles", inspired by the changing of the seasons. I can feel the warmth returning, the animals slowly scurrying from their hiding places to find food and to play in the thawing winter. But there turns out to be a slight dark edge to it midway through. This darker edge, though, almost seems like rushing water when the ice melts and the world comes to life.
Vass tuned all four strings down on "North" for a smooth alto sound, rich and inviting. But my favorite comes next: "Hallan". The tune is a special one in that it was written Solstice morning and played during a Solstice celebration at an ancient burial site near Cladh Hallan in South Uist. It incorporates the meditative harmony with the natural world, while treading lightly on hallowed ground. After nearly a minute of jovial entrance, Vass' voice enters in a dark chant, calling out "Hallan" in a spiritual manner, mixing with the dark and slightly mournful tones. It's eary and haunting. And nearly 4 minutes in, the tune becomes frantic, robust, deep, and full. It's a sound not easily created, with swelling of pride, spirituality, eeriness, and the weight of the world. It's simply...magic. Closing the album is "Lights Out", opening much like "Wintro", to bring the album full circle. Vass even brings in certain motifs from "Wintro" into "Lights Out", as if a conclusion to the album, presented in a swaying, mournful tune, as if sad the album must come to a close. And you know what? We are sad. There should have been one tune for each day of December!