The Collection - Ars Moriendi
Record Label: Self-released (via Kickstarter)
Release Date: July 15, 2014
As much as we don’t enjoy discussing it, death is one of those inevitable topics we all are destined to face at some stage of our life. In Greensboro, NC, a folk ensemble that goes by the name The Collection have written a long-form eulogy that deftly navigates the many facets of death. Written as a response to the suicide of a friend, Ars Moriendi (that’s Latin for the Art of Dying) is a sweeping work of staggering beauty that at times suffers from the weight of its own grandiosity. Though the band’s roster varies by the day, The Collection centers around frontman David Wimbish and a dozen of his closest friends (yes, that’s right, a dozen). These friends bring their respective talents and help concoct an elaborate and multi-layered work thats should be remembered long after 2014 fades away. Well, at least parts of it should.
The album opens with the instrumental overture “From Dust,” a preface which sets the sonic tone for the kind of symphonic veneer that The Collection employs for much of Ars Moriendi. Suffice it to say, if you are not on board with “From Dust,” you’ll probably not be on board with much of Ars Moriendi. Arguably one of the strongest songs on the albums is “Scala Naturae,” a lush, horn-filled biography of said fallen friend that introduces the sweetly affecting vocals of Mira Joy Wimbish (yep that’s David’s wife). Mira Joy yields to her husband at the 2:30 mark and establishes one of the hallmarks of what makes The Collection so darn charming. David Wimbish has a voice that is a magnet, a guttural cry that wrenches every emotion with every utterance. Whenever he opens his mouth there’s an immediate need to draw and closer and listen more intently. The very problem with “Scala Naturae” though is that much of the album cannot compare to it and only six minutes in, the album has already one of its most lasting moments.
Ars Moriendi progresses nicely on the banjo-filled “The Borrowers,” a vernal, horn-fueled romp that is equal parts energetic, open-hearted and jubilant. Ditto for the surging “The Gown of Green,” another track on which we get to hear David Wimbish sing as if his very survival depends on it. The disc’s first half stumbles on “The Younger One,” a meditative, string-laden ballad that at times feels forced, almost as if it is trying too hard to be pretty. That trend continues on “Garden,” a song which struggles to get going and doesn’t until the 1:30 mark. Mira Joy enters the frame at the 2-minute mark and her addition helps the song but nothing about it is sadly worth revisiting.
The album rebounds on “The Middle One,” a triumphant effort that hits at just how brilliant The Collection can be. After the quiet introspection of “The Doubtful One,” the North Carolina assembly is in full force on the impassioned title track, a riveting opus with ample amounts of horn fills and some of David Wimbish’s best vocals. Arguably one of Ars Moriendi’s most immediate and accessible cuts is “Broken Tether,” a violin-laden power ballad that has a titanic conclusion. The disc dips again on “Capernaum, “ a song which sounds so much like its predecessors its hard to find favor with it, even on repeated listens. Expectedly, The Collection correct themselves on the piano-driven heartbreaker “Some Days I Don’t Want to Sing,” and the riveting conclusion that is “To Dust.”
When the album ends though one can’t help but feel absolutely exhausted. As if the subject matter alone were not enough, the band’s propensity to flood the disc with an array of instruments can at times bog the listener down. Not only that, on the quieter moments, the one where the listener would hope to find strength, the band seems to bumble along, with Wimbish never really hitting his stride and the band itself conceding to him to do much of the heavy work. Those errors and omissions are what separate Ars Moriendi from being the transformative, dynamic album the band wants it to be. That being written, there’s still something to be said for the album’s winning cuts (and there’s at least a half dozen of them) and the group’s boldness in writing such a heady and honest album. For that and that alone, they should be championed. If only more bands were willing to take such risks.