Tom Heasley & Toss Panos - Passages [Full Bleed Music, 2007]

Late one night around 10 years ago I was sitting on a hill overlooking Dingle Bay in Ireland with several friends. We had picked magic mushrooms earlier in the day and were enjoying the fruits of our labor. We sat there watching the fishing boats slowly make their way out to sea and in my altered state of consciousness I saw the ships as mechanical dinosaurs. The ancient mixed with the industrial in a psychedelic haze. Passages, by Tom Heasley and Toss Panos reminds me of that night. Each song features the troubled tuba playing of Heasley, accompanied by the dancing drums of Panos, and throughout the entire album there is a feeling of vastness and otherworldliness amidst the minimalism. Evocative landscapes and creatures are conjured up with a rather limited musical palette. As I listened to Passages, I envisioned gigantic, lumbering creatures placid at one moment and tortured the next, As in the first song, Different Worlds. The majority of its 24 minutes are a mellow free-fall through the space-time continuum, featuring the song of regal beasts, until we near the end, where the music takes a turn like a strung out bull elephant: Horton Hears a Hellhound. One minute he's agonized and angry, the next, plaintive and hopeless.

98% Pure opens with a series of otherworldly tuba moans before the drums come along and ask it what's wrong. It feels like a lonely Loch Ness Monster slowly swimming through the darkness in mourning for its lost mate, while the drums serve as kind-hearted fish, skittering around the creature and vainly attempting to console her.

Elegy For Phillip Berrigan invokes a sense of misty mountaintops overlooking the sea, but it's Hibernian quality is made more universal by the inclusion of Heasley's throat singing, which morphs into the tuba and vice versa. The subtle sampling of waves on this track is neither new-agey, nor cheesy, just wonderfully, brilliantly atmospheric.

On Zephyr, things seem to move from the sea to the land, specifically the desert. As I listened to it I got a sense of an orange landscape with bald mountains towering overhead, standing in silent witness to American Indian demons, slowly dancing 'round a prone, disoriented shaman. Then we hear the faint cry of far away birds, as the shaman regains his composure, sits up and simply watches the dancing demons with detached wonder.

A strange thing happened to me while I was listening to this album. Before I had even looked at the titles of the tracks I pictured the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, so I was surprised to see that the last song on Passages is entitled, The Cliffs Of Moher. They are a wondrous site to behold, and this song is a fitting tribute to them. Like the cliffs themselves, this song oozes with mystery and majesty. It conveys the moods of awe, fear and respect that any normal human being would experience standing at the edge looking down at the sea, and the sense of danger. Every year several careless tourists are blown off the cliffs: unwitting sacrifices to the Celtic sea.

Passages captures a feeling of haunted mysticism, a kind of ancient, otherworldly dreaminess that is somehow anchored to the earth even as it languidly swirls through the cosmos and the oceans. It is an evocative album that let's you take it wherever you choose.

Joe Pickell

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Tom Heasley & Toss Panos - Passages