By Erin Delaney ’16
Axis Mundi is as much an album as a sacrament. The duo Brown Bird has a catalog of albums which are in many ways like their own children, each the product of a genuine synthesis of the couple’s sensibilities, each work vibrating with their own unique life forces. Their most recent and final work, Axis Mundi, presents itself as both a look backwards at their incredibly varied discography and a look forwards to the terrifying prospect of dissolution. In April 2014, David Lamb succumbed to a relapse of the Leukemia he had battled on and off for years. He left his musical and life partner MorganEve Swain behind to finish work on Axis Mundi, written and recorded in their home studio during his treatment and deterioration. The resulting work meditates on the approach of their impending permanent separation, swinging between despair, anger, dejection, and hope. Axis Mundi features more electric guitar than their previous works while swinging deftly between trademark Middle Eastern, Eastern European, and American influences.
Axis Mundi moves with the steady steps of an animal loping toward its last end, following periods of mania with long cleansing exhalations, moving cyclically between the storm and the calm preceding it over and over. “Focus” and “Adolesence” indoctrinate the listener into an intensely personal ritual performed at the axis mundi, or the place where the heaven and earth meet. David sings, “if this flesh should fail / devour me from within / may then my soul prevail / free to roam again.” At this spot, mortality looms large and magnificent, leaving the couple to negotiate everyday life under it’s shadow.
The pulsing melancholy and pinching ecstasies of Axis Mundi alternate and merge to the steady beat of drums and the moan of distorted guitar; a sure-footed dance of death like “Ephraim” precedes a violently depressed mediation on loss, of both partner and self, in “Forest of Fevers.” The focus on dissolution of body and mind in Axis Mundi brings a focus on soul to the forefront with songs that seem to emanate from such a powerfully personal place that they expand the boundaries of the soul outward. Axis Mundi meets death with determination and bone-aching weariness; at the place where death and life meet, a bond between partners proves too powerful to be severed by death as death becomes coextensive with life.