Sometimes I feel like a real music wuss. While my friends get immense enjoyment out of insane, cacophonic shows like Hella (which I recently attended and, apologies to Mike, did not like at all), I fret over my lost CD of great harpsichord pieces, or sing along with "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." The most recent insult to my musical manhood is this album by Colleen. You think it's easy for me to recommend an album with a unicorn and a fairy on the cover? I told my friend that my favorite song on The Golden Morning Breaks sounded like a mermaid's music box and she scoffed - anyone who listens to, and likes, a mermaid's music box is a 98-pound weakling in anyone's book. I would have thought so, too, if this music weren't so goddamn beautiful.
Colleen creates sparse arrangements of rather baroque-sounding instruments - harps, xylophones, cellos - which are delicate and beautiful. She (it is one woman, though her name is not Colleen) reminds me of Flim occasionally, at least the more contemplative Flim pieces. Flim had a bit more edge and this seems more mystical and aquatic. Some tracks, like "Floating in the Clearest Night," have a more steady rhythm than others and follow a melodic motif closely. Others, like "Sweet Rolling" and "The Happy Sea" are content to drift or drone, letting the beauty of an instrument speak for itself, unadorned. The latter features most prominently an organ, flanged hypnotically, which drifts in and out with crackling white noise and gentle bells, and works as a minor ending in the album, setting the stage for my favorite song from the record, "I'll Read You A Story." I'm not sure what kind of instrument it is, but it certainly sounds like a music box, but without the cheap twang usually associated with it. It begins slowly and builds slowly (nothing moves quickly on this album), eventually accompanied by a harp and the two instruments' ghostly echoes and shadows. It's a wonderful track, suitable mainly for headphone blissing-out, but really you're not going to put this album on at a party so there's no problem there.
"I'll Read You A Story" is followed by another drone track, this one a bit more harsh and active. It's a nice way to couch the most peaceful track on the album. The title track, next to last, seems the most processed of the lot, in fact it is almost distracting after the other, more organic tracks - even though "I'll Read You A Story" contains more obvious post-processing (back-echoes and reverb), it is far too complete a sound to pick out the details like that. The final and longest track, "Everything Lay Still" is one of those that prefers to drift, beautifully of course, but it is more wallpaper than the other tracks, lacking the movement necessary to fill 10 minutes.
In the end, The Golden Morning Breaks is also more wallpaper than anything else; I don't mean to insult the album, I am simply purposing it. Its gentle rhythms and unobtrustive instrumentation are perfect for reading or sitting around, though it has the depth and beauty to be paid attention to - that is in fact, if I remember correctly, the definition Brian Eno gave for ambient music. This certainly isn't smooth jazz or soft rock - it's soft and smooth for sure, but it's also worth a damn. Check it out if there's too much garage rock in your rotation these days.