bahía mansa, “botánica del olvido”

Walking around my neighbourhood in the early evenings, I’ve been passing hundreds of houses whose yards form a crazy quilt of distinctive landscaping styles: clean-cut American lawns crash into riotously colourful xeriscapes, clouds of willows billow into the middle of sidewalks, canopies of old and grizzled trees give way to highly climbable boulders. And the flowers! Every day, the sheer range of blooms I see reminds me how ignorant I am of the natural world and its variety. The bouquet of floral and arboreal scents is overwhelming; in recent weeks it’s as if I’ve rediscovered my sense of smell. In the middle of the sensory flood, figuring out where one aroma stops and another starts feels impossible.

The songs on botánica del olvido connect with me in the same way. Their elements swirl together and form a mass, but they’re not monolithic. Sometimes I fixate on little features, like the beat-tape wooze that opens the album, but mostly I’m reluctant to break the songs into components. It’s not that it’s technically taxing to do, it just seems beside the point. This album is like the series of quietly stunning moments that can happen on a good walk. Each block contains a different kind of beauty, and there is just too much going on at any one time for you to try making a complete inventory of your surroundings. Getting caught up in the analysis ends up seeming like a waste, even if you find your observation skills getting sharper and your sense of place in the world more solid. Details jump out in your field of vision, you remark “Wow!” and then you’re adrift again.

So let’s hit the pavement and go exploring. Bird sounds are everywhere on this album, as they can be in daily life, neatly filtered out of our perception until we start listening for them and realise how frequent they are sometimes. We’re cast up ten or twenty feet into the air, surrounded by the mist music of “hombre bajo la bruma,” the equivalent of a sky that’s grey except in those places where the violins pierce through the cloud cover and let light in. The next piece, titled “金繕い,” whose textures start out watery but end up glowing, conveys a sense of skyward movement that’s tough to stick a neat label on—not entirely soothing, not entirely melancholy, but instead particular enough in its blend of yearning and subtle disquiet that it can pull long-lost sensations partway out from the fog of memory.

A little closer to the ground is “el camino de agua,” with its echoing, muted piano chords and bees buzzing behind. And the blinking synth sounds on top of “los nenúfares de monet” are themselves like nenúfares, water lilies, circles of colour drifting on a busy pond. By the time I get to the album’s title track, with its keening tones on top, I want to go walking all day long, up into hills or down into green expanses.

This album floats often, but it never goes all the way into outer space, and I like it that way. It’s the embodiment of a few lines from Wisława Szymborska‘s poem “Sky.” Here they are in Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh’s translation:

Even the highest mountains
are no closer to the sky

than the deepest valleys.
There’s no more of it in one place
than another.

botánica del olvido is music of the low sky, the intimate sky, the layer of sky passing just above the tops of our heads. As you listen, picture this: you’re walking among the flora of these songs, the ground drops away, and suddenly you’re inhabiting that layer, too.