||Released in 2016 on Heart Dance Records
All music composed, performed, and produced by Michelle Qureshi at Music as Metaphor Studios
Mastering by Cass Anawaty at Sunbreak Music
Michelle Qureshi: Steel string acoustic, classical nylon, electric and slide guitars, Native flute, didgeridoo, keyboards and synths
I’d willing to bet that very few of you reading this review have ever heard anything like Scattering Stars before. Seeing as how I have reviewed thousands of album over the last twenty years, I would be safe making that bet with at least 98% of you. On this special album, Michelle Qureshi filters her assorted guitars through a musical spectrum the same way light passes through a prism, resulting in an amazing array of sounds, styles, moods, and genres, in the same way the prism splits light into myriad colors. After just half way through my first playing, I was left mentally tongue-tied (I start writing reviews in my head as soon as I start listening to an album) in trying to even come close to describing the brilliance of this album. Frankly, I will still likely do a lousy job of it.
This is a solo album but Qureshi plays a lot of instruments (see the list in the review header). Combine that array with the fact this was recorded in her home studio, she composed all the music and self-produced the album (including engineering and mixing), leading to my reaction, which is, to quote Lord Vader “Impressive. Most impressive.” Equally impressive is the broad, expansive music styles that the artist tackles and makes her own. Yet, not once in my many playings of this album did I ever find it disjointed or “too” diverse. While I can’t pinpoint how this disparity exists, there’s no sense denying it. She simply can call forth any type of music and fashion it in such a way that it is hers, pure and simple.
With fourteen tracks on the album, I can’t describe each one, so I will take a scatter shot approach instead (pun intended, but it fits, too). The opening “Beyond the Field” is a pensive tone poem which would not be out of place on a Will Ackerman album from his Windham Hill days, but accented with subtle synth shadings which color the already subtle melancholy with another layer of autumnal reflection. Shimmering drone-like tones on “Crystals” yield to sparse plucked electric guitar notes that are like pin pricks of light against an inky black sky. At one point, I hear a faint echo of the same kind of electric guitar sound heard on (here’s an obscure reference) Bo Hanson’s Lord of the Rings album. Gradually, the song becomes more post-rockish with Qureshi working with both lead and rhythm guitars. There is a moodiness here (and many tracks are also equally atmospheric), and when the guitars are stripped away to reveal keyboards and ambient textures, it only becomes more pronounced. “Bridge to Where I Do Not Know” has Qureshi picking up her nylon acoustic guitar and while the mood here again is reflective (as on the first track) it is less somber and warmer at times, and the guitar is played in a softer fashion. As the song progresses, she also plays electric guitar and the mood lightens considerably (the tempo picks up too). On “New World,” ambient and new age merge as more overt electronics are present. Here the evocation is warm and pleasant with synth pads, organ swells, and later on, delightful bell tones. Her guitar playing here is pastoral and comforting (in juxtaposition of what a “new world” might have in store, i.e. unfamiliarity and perhaps danger). Next, “Dust” does a full 180 with mellow slide guitar blues licks and acoustic finger style weaving a web of sorrowful beauty. Qureshi’s Native flute playing on “Chasing the Wind” floats over a bed of ambient textures and softly growling didgeridoo. About this time on my first playing, I thought “Is she playing all these instruments?.” I was obviously surprised when Michelle, in an email exchange, told me it’s just her. Another drastic change of direction occurs on “Stargazer.” Glitchy electronics and beats are buffeted by keyboard swells ebbing and flowing. Some mildly distorted electric guitar is present as well. That Qureshi keeps this music relatively accessible is a testament to her desire to maintain that earlier-alluded to cohesion. Those lovely bell tones are brought into play once more (this time reminding me of the album Dandelion Dreamer by Andrew Mays, aka Eien). “Forgetting Tomorrow” is another quasi-ambient piece, again opening with assorted synth textures and synth washes. As the song evolves, it becomes darker, and I couldn’t help but consider it as a sonic backdrop to a dystopian society, where dread and fear dwell in the shadows.
As I wrote earlier, Scattering Stars is a varied musical work but also epitomizes that a “whole” is sometimes more than the sum of its parts. I suppose some may not hear or sense the same musical cohesion that I do. But there is no way of missing that this is one artist’s unique vision, unified by her amazing talent, her selfless bravado, and her mastery across a broad landscape of moods, sounds, rhythms, and styles. I acknowledge that, as I write this, her next album is due to ship any day now. I will do my best to review her next work in a more timely manner, because frankly, an artist this bold and exciting deserves my, and your, attention.