Ora Cogan's Haunted 'Bells in the Ruins' Hints at a Darkness Beneath the Surface
Published Jul 15, 2020Some types of music instantly whisk you away in a stream of blissfulness, the instrumentation swirling and the vocals a hypnotic murmur. Bells in the Ruins, the latest album by Victoria, BC-based artist Ora Cogan, has moments of this. The opening track, "Tell", has rippling guitars and gliding high-pitched vocals, the airiness of being outside on a warm sunny day. Closing track "Crime" is similar in the way it's stretched out and laid back, conveying the mentality of getting lost in the moment. But these feel like a kind of front, a cover disguising the inner darkness.
The album, Cogan's fifth, focuses on loss and absence, and this is channelled primarily through the sonic atmosphere. In "Kills," the gentle harmlessness of the beginning speeds up into a chaotic, repetitive cry of the word "kills," suggesting losing one's mind while coming to terms with a distressing truth. "Fixé" and "The Devil" are eery and hollow, the loss being like a sense of loss of space and time. They contain the kind of crashes and wails that one may associate with falling into the pits of hell. "Secret" starts with intimacy and melancholy but opens up into a reflective warmth. It's like a window letting in the light, a tease before the contrast of "Alta," which is slow and distant and wrapped in a nighttime darkness alive with ghosts and ghouls.
The aforementioned opener and closer are more in line with Cogan's Shadowland album from 2016, which transitioned her from her earlier folkier material into something more psychedelic, while the majority of the songs are an elevation of the dark and supernatural aura of 2017's Crickets. Cogan's lyrics are hard to discern — her voice is used more as an instrument, whirling in pitch and pulling the listener along. Songs can blur into one with a consistency that makes it difficult to distinguish one song from the next. Bells in the Ruins, however, is perhaps her most intense, with a contrast of warmth and spookiness that warns of the unsettling gloom that can lurk below the surface.
(Prism Tongue Records)