Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.
Polish composer Michał Jacaszek's new album KWIATY, which translates as "flowers," strives to locate beauty in desolation. These aren't the kaleidoscopic gardens of Victorian manors. They're the dried petals inside old acrylic paperweights, their life cycles frozen in time.
KWIATY presents slight, but welcome tweaks to Jacaszek's previous sonic explorations. His music still feels icy and bleak, but now glows with a touch of color. More than before, the individual pieces of his sixth solo project lean closer to actual songs than to soundscapes. They have melody and pulse. That's partly due to the human voice. Several female vocalists sing atop Jacaszek's electroacoustic tapestry, inspired by verses from an anthology of 17th century English poetry. The words themselves are largely indecipherable, but their fragile beauty speaks for itself.
The atmosphere of KWIATY may feel cold, but give it a devoted listen and that frost melts away, revealing lost transmissions finally able to reach a receiver. Each cycle through the album exposes more detail, from pared down Appalachian melodies to skeletal Cabaret music to washes of chamber jazz coming through an old Victrola.
The album triggers a sense of nostalgia. Like floating through an antique store, it conjures up images of old toys, worn-out phrases on signs, contraptions with arcane purposes. Caught in a sepia slideshow, any specific narrative is elusive. But the challenge of KWIATY is also largely its appeal: Jacaszek presents a boundless book of forgotten remnants. It's up to listeners to construct the stories behind them.