There are times when art takes your breath away; not harshly, but in a quiet reverence. Standing in the echoing silence of a museum, gazing at a worn canvas. Reading a particularly old book, gently peeling the brittle pages from each other, and smoothing them back into place. The reverence you feel when you touch something beautiful, when you hold something that is both delicate and personal is the reverence that I approach this record.
i was baptized here, the latest release of Printing Shed (Briar Lake), is a reflection and a meditation. Plaintive piano chords softly dance under Briar’s voice, and create a scene that is both deeply intimate and ethereal: earthly yet effervescent. This album is filled with Briar’s musings, the lyrics to each song read like poetry: deep, primal thoughts put to song. The sound in this album is unearthly. Where a listener might feel like the artist is in the same room as them, Briar’s voice sounds celestial. The listener is sharing an otherworldly space with the music. The production is airy in a way that feels distant yet comfortable. The sound itself is raw and personal.
Unsurprisingly, i was baptized here has motifs of catholicism, present from the very first few lines of the album: “You draw the stigmata onto my hand/ And tell me you see me the way that I am,” to the title itself. So what does baptism mean in this context? Baptism is considered a form of rebirth, a saving of your soul, and figurative washing of your past. Briar brings up one piece of writing on baptism in the albums description, from Cyril of Jerusalem’s work, On the Mystery of Baptism: “And at the self-same moment you were both dying and being born; and that Water of salvation was at once your grave and your mother.” To be baptized here means both life and death, to have been born here, and to have lost something here.
And indeed, death and birth are also themes throughout the album. “ardor” explores Briar’s own baptism, submerged in holy water, but turns to their experience with fire, one that serves as a baptism of its own: “You are fire and you have taught me/ Through heat and through light/ I exist outside my body.” There is holiness in both the fire and the water, in life and in death. Briar repeatedly mentions flame, a wax body burning till death, or water, as in the singer drowning in salt water. The duality of these elements: at once something loving– a person or rebirth, and something that takes away life, is the duality of baptism, at once the death and birth. The two final songs were written and recorded the day the album was released. Entitled “the fire that i died in” and “the water that i was born in” respectively, these pieces are the most raw, their words lifted directly from Briar’s throat, a culmination of their thoughts throughout the year. “is this rebirth or am i dying?” they ask, unable to tell, experiencing a second baptism.
The piece as a whole is meditative and melancholy. Wistful piano chords, inspired by both ambient and gospel, ferry the listener through the album. The album listens as if you are sitting in front of a fire, watching flames dance in an introspective trance. The themes of love, death, loss, pain, and entanglement that are present throughout the album, reach you. Each song builds on the last, explores different avenues and builds towards the final moment. But there is no final moment, Briar leaves, and slowly so does the music, becoming softer and softer until we are again left alone. This album is a journey, both beautiful and heartbreaking, and not one you want to miss.