Last year Blake Cowan released an album called The Crow Mother, which was the result of an extended break away from society in the forests of Mt. Rainer. In his trailer and outside amidst the quietly burring wildlife, he recorded eleven tracks that sought to help him out of what seemed to be a quietly manifesting depression. At the end of it, on “The Crow Mother,” you hear a fire crackling away and it gives off the impression that everything was okay, if not better than it was when the album opened with the ghostly track “The Fold.” The Crow Mother is one of those albums you don’t expect to be recreated as it as it has a singular quality about it, catching a specific moment in time.
As comfortable as Cowan seemed to settle into his reverberated acoustic style, I’d have assumed that he’d work his way back into society and make himself clearer after finding some solace; what I didn’t expect was for him to continue down the same path. His new EP, The Westering, is an afterthought to the album that preceded it, consisting of five tracks that could fit snugly within the confines of The Crow Mother, and makes for a pleasing little listen while watching the day fade away into dusk. Sound wise it’s much the same: Cowan’s voice is still drenched in reverb and is more indistinguishable than before, and he’s still filling his tracks with lonely acoustic guitar and wordless harmonies.
Like his previous album, though, it’s the little touches that are the most telling here. You’ll also still hear the forest, as birds chirp here and there, and the wide-spaced ambience allows each track to breathe in and out peacefully. Instrumentally there’s a few new steps treaded, too: “Boreal” swells almost gracefully, like a faraway sunrise as strings that sound like they could be either a harp or a mandolin (or both) are plucked to keep the track going forward; “Fay Warer” and “The Harbor” add what sounds like some keyboards strings into the background while, adding a new layer amidst the reverberation. It’s things like this that make it apparent that The Westering isn’t just a collection of b-sides, but rather an attempt to expand on The Crow Mother, to evolve into something or delve deeper into the inspirational qualities of one’s surroundings. Cowan seems intent on becoming one with the forest, to become one of those voice whispering in the background of his recordings.
Being a step in between statements, though, a few tracks here do feel somewhat half-baked. “Hollow” begins appropriately as Cowan exhales “Follow me” over and over again, and it does entice you to shadow him as he wanders through the woods, but he soon drifts away from his point, and like a mythical figure that lives in the forest, you soon lose track. You hear his voice but you can’t see him amidst the trees and bushes. “The Harbor” and “The Westering” follow suit, and though the title track does tease out a sense of trepidation, it never amounts to being anything more than a prolonged, decaying minor chord ringing out into the distance. It’s to be expected, though; Cowan is wandering here, unsure what delving deeper into his style will result in. The Westering certainly proves that there’s more material in the solitudinous lifestyle than The Crow Mother might have made out, but without a reason, a story, or some kind of goal behind it, the music loses itself. To use the famous idiom, it’s almost like it can’t see the trees for the forest. However, Cowan at least seems intent and dedicated to pursuing his artistic inspiration, which is noble and interesting to follow. He’s referred to The Crow Mother as a prologue and The Westering as the first chapter, so perhaps the EP will make more sense once the full story starts to unfold.