Abby Gundersen is stepping out of her brother’s folky shadow to make a statement of her own. Up until now she’s been known for the harmonies and violin talent she’s added to Noah’s solo releases, but her debut EP, Time Moves Quickly, is distinctively in an idiom of its own. A neoclassical meditation on slow whimsy, Miss Gundersen’s instrumental thesis is as simple as it is self-assured. These compositions could most closely be compared to the works of Jóhann Jóhannsson or Ólafur Arnalds, but what’s most charming about Time is that it doesn’t sound like it’s trying to be anything.
Album opener “We Will Make It There” settles around a tonic piano note while chords are explored in minimal arpeggios around the central theme. You can hear the floating particles of dust that appear like little grey ghosts for just a moment as the sun catches them through the window. The remaining instrumental cast is made up of violin and cello, dithering like waves tossed, while the latter lends rhythmic definition with echoey pizzicato hits. As we’re lulled into what will soon be established as a signature restfulness, Gundersen’s only vocable stamp on the record lingers on a mantra of hope: “We will make it there.”
Whether the homage that “Farewell Summer” pays to Ray Bradbury’s novel of the same name is intentional or not, the tie is profound. Bradbury explores a coming of age and a coming to grips with time. At first, the piano dawdles, unsure of itself; but when it lands, it does so with poise. Like Bradbury’s Douglas saying farewell to the Midwestern summer of his childhood, Gundersen’s cello is a baroque meditation on the departure of light. In it is a bittersweet longing, but also a matured acknowledgment that something beautiful has happened.
“Farewell” ends with a reading from Robert Lowell’s poem, “The Public Garden.” The band Volcano Choir released a song a year ago that ended with Charles Bukowski reading his poetry. The Bukowski poem, mumbled through intoxicated tears, drips with self-loathing and angst as he entreats death to take him in his sleep. Lowell’s poetic insertion, however, is the perfect antithesis, recollecting how it was to be “drowned in Eden, while Jehovah’s grass-green lyre was rustling all about us in the leaves.” These are the sounds of Abby Gundersen wading out of the fountain of youth.
“Drifting” reestablishes surety with a droning single note harmonized in alternating steps reminiscent of Sean Carey’s piano work. Swells from an orchestrally majestic cello underscore the keyboard’s dissonant, but always resolving forays. The simplicity could serve to set a perfect bed on top of which a gentle female voice could elaborate, but the composer refrains. It is through this prim conscientiousness that we understand: Time isn’t a celebration of Abby, but a celebration of music.
Closer “Every Moment” is the most classically inclined of the bunch. Fermatas abound as the piece bats at the meter with curious paws, at peace with its own organic pace. The intimacy peaks as the strings hold off their entrance in a meek treatise on mindfulness. As it trails off in a reflective exhalation, the strings resurface to make their conclusive remarks.
Time Moves Quickly is over when it’s supposed to be. It accomplishes what an EP intends. But it also doesn’t seem to care either way. It is something modest and pretty, and it’s satisfied to be just that. Abby Gundersen’s unaccompanied introduction sounds like the few blessed weeks when the sun is shining in Washington state. It sounds like contentment.