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Jozef Van Wissem and Jim Jarmusch - The Mystery of Heaven

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Artist: Jozef Van Wissem and Jim Jarmusch

Album: The Mystery of Heaven

Label: Sacred Bones

Review date: Nov. 13, 2012

Prior to 2011, some of the only physical artifacts of filmmaker Jim Jarmusch’s flirtation with music were an LP and a pair of singles by The Del-Byzanteens, a short-lived band that also included composer Phil Kline. Fast forward more than 20 years, and Jarmusch surprisingly turned up playing guitar on lutist Jozef Van Wissem’s 2011 album The Joy That Never Ends. That single track birthed an ongoing collaboration between the two, and The Mystery of Heaven is the pair’s second full-length of 2012. They’ve not been together long, but like any couple, Van Wissem and Jarmusch have learned that in any relationship, sometimes you have to stray from your usual roles to spice things up.

Their collaboration began with Jarmusch snaking feedback around the stark simplicity of Van Wissem’s lute, and the pair haven’t completely given up on that approach. “Etimasia” and its reprise follow the blueprint, but The Mystery of Heaven’s short bookends are the outliers, and the trio of longer tracks in between are each a different variation on the pair’s usual mode of interaction. “Flowing Light of the Godhead” finds Van Wissem gone electric, his notes distorted, trailed by tremolo’d echoes of static rain. “The More She Burns The More Beautifully She Glows” begins with Tilda Swinton (!) reading an overwrought bit of erotica over hefty slabs of feedback; when Van Wissem takes her place a few minutes in, Jarmusch doesn’t let up one bit. Often he’s clearly playing an accompaniment to Van Wissem; this time he’s an equal voice, his sustained peals hanging ominously over the lute like stormclouds.

The album’s title track begins normally enough, but there’s a point at which it begins to waver like a highway mirage. Van Wissem’s lute strikes what seems to be a sour note, and via the magic of what I assume to be double tracking, a lute duet emerges, its unison paths diverging at moments of temporal or tonal dissonance that leave the piece feeling strangely tentative. Though it’s clear that the “mistakes” present on the track are intentional, I can’t help but feel excited when they arise, and it speaks to The Mystery of Heaven’s biggest strength. Jim Jarmusch and Jozef Van Wissem could have made another album of tracks that followed their initial recipe, and it would have undoubtedly been a beautiful one. But like any good ongoing collaboration, theirs is already moving beyond its initial definition, gone past the novelty of lutist and filmmaker into something more enduringly interesting.

By Adam Strohm

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