PJE – Distant Rest (AF03)

PJE - Distant Rest

A lovely silhouette of a tree greets us in the album art for Distant Rest, by PJE. A familiar place of refuge and beauty.

Artist: PJE
Title: Distant Rest
Label: Assembly Field Netlabel
Cat#: AF03
Keywords: Ambient, Field Recording
Reviewer: Alex Spalding

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
— Wilfred Owen, “Dulce et Decorum est”

Another request! I delved into it immediately after reading its description…

“Distant Rest is a single long form track which takes its title from a line in a poem by World War I soldier and poet Wilfred Owen entitled Dulce et Decorum Est. It refers to going back to the safety of the barracks after fighting on the front line, and a theme of safety and a return to an easier, simpler time runs through the track, which is based around a field recording made on the artist’s phone at his mother’s house where he grew up.”
— From the Bandcamp page for this album.

… all kinds of things came flooding in…

“In June, 1918, the Cincinnati poet Eloise Robinson was in the wasteland of Picardy handing out chocolate and reciting poetry to the American Expeditionary Forces. Reciting poetry! It is all but unimaginable that in that hell of terror, gangrene, mustard gas, sleeplessness, lice, and fatigue, there were moments when bone-weary soldiers, for the most part mere boys, would sit in a circle around a lady poet in an ankle-length khaki skirt and Boy Scout hat, to hear poems. In the middle of one poem the poet’s memory flagged. She apologized profusely, for the poem, as she explained, was immensely popular back home. Whereupon a sergeant held up his hand, as if in school, and volunteered to recite it. And did.

So that in the hideously ravaged orchards and strafed woods of the valley of the Ourcq, where the fields were cratered and strewn with coils of barbed wire, fields that reeked of cordite and carrion, a voice recited “Trees.” How wonderful, said Eloise Robinson, that he should know it. “Well, ma’am,” said the sergeant, “I guess I wrote it. I’m Joyce Kilmer.”

He wrote it five years before, and sent it off to the newly founded magazine Poetry, and Harriet Monroe, the editor, paid him six dollars for it. Almost immediately it became one of the most famous poems in English, the staple of school teachers and the one poem known by practically everybody.

Sergeant Alfred Joyce Kilmer was killed by German gunfire on the heights above Seringes, the 30th of July, 1918. The French gave him the Croix de Guerre for his gallantry. He was thirty-two.”
— an excerpt from Guy Davenport’s “Trees”

… and I’ll fill this review with much of it. As for the album itself, it is comprised of a single track — the titular ‘Distant Rest’, and is by PJE, a UK-based artist doing work that, if this album is any indication, is really quite beautiful, somber and thought-provoking. It begins with a lo-fi / low bit resonant ambiance which sounds like a field recording with bits of voices of children and wind. A tone echoes into the space, followed soon by a loop of resonant synth pads…

The minstrel boy to the war has gone,
In the ranks of death you’ll find him,
His father’s sword he hath girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him.
— Thomas Moore, “The Minstrel Boy”

… I’m beginning to hear more varied textures. A hollow, compressed series of choir drones comes in, and they are very lovely. We return to the heavy pads. It’s like a dream…

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
— Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields”

… these tones are very unusual, in fact, inspiring a strange sense of cold foreboding coupled with a sentimentality and naivety, and love. A sudden burst of vacant chords, many numb returns to the carousels, to the dreamtones, the whispers, the span of empty time…

Move him into the sun–
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now,
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds,–
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
Full-nerved–still warm–too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
–O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?
— Wilfred Owen, “Futility”

… I love also that this album is inspired by a poem from WWI. WWI was, strangely — or perhaps not so strangely — a war fought in a time period that produced many poets, many who died fighting and some who lived on, writing of the experience, horrors…

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
— Siegfried Sassoon, “Suicide In The Trenches”

… this music has a poetry of its own, a pace that has something to it that evokes the solemn retreat from war, to home and hearth, but the distance still lingers…

“”Trees” is, if you look, very much of its time. Trees were favorite symbols for Yeats, Frost, and even the young Pound. The nature of chlorophyll had just been discovered, and Tarzan of the Apes — set in a tree world — had just been published. Trees were everywhere in art of the period, and it was understood that they belonged to the region of ideas, to Santayana’s Realm of Beauty.

But Kilmer had been reading about trees in another context that we have forgotten, one that accounts for the self-effacing closing lines (“Poems are made by fools like me, / But only God can make a tree”), lines that have elevated the poem into double duty as a religious homily. Kilmer’s young manhood was in step with the idealism of the century. One of the inventions in idealism that attracted much attention was the movement to stop child labor and to set up nursery schools in slums. One of the most diligent pioneers in this movement was the Englishwoman Margaret McMillan, who had the happy idea that a breath of fresh air and an intimate acquaintance with grass and trees were worth all the pencils and desks in the whole school system. There was something about trees that she wanted her slum children to feel. She had them take naps under trees, roll on grass, dance around trees. The English word for gymnasium equipment is “apparatus.” And in her book Labour and Childhood (1907) you will find this sentence: “Apparatus can be made by fools, but only God can make a tree.””
—  an excerpt from Guy Davenport’s “Trees”

… a very memorable album for me. You too can find it at the following link:

http://archive.org/details/Pje-DistantRest

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