BandWagon Records / 2015
It's a truism to say that change is the only constant, but Becoming, the second album/multimedia project from Tim and Betony Coons aka Giants & Pilgrims, explores perpetual flux in fresh ways, stretching our usual self-perception with eyes of inordinate hope. Describing the record's theme, Tim writes that "[t]here is no arrival point for the soul". Becoming hinges on that idea: that for a human being, there's no such thing as stasis. The Creator is still creating us and always will be. And though our bodies might seem husks of their former selves, they're really more like chrysalises.
Giants & Pilgrims isn't staying static when it comes to their music, either - last year's Almanac No. 1 was a solid collection of tuneful indie folk-rock streaked with strings and brass, but Becoming evolves the template in several ways with almost total success. One of these new elements is the snippets of home audio spliced in at different points. The Coons' are raising three young girls and, just like a home with children in it, Becoming is littered with the sounds of plastic toys and tinny kiddy instruments. The clips sound both intimate and extemporaneous, and on the track "Big Sister on the Toy Phone", audio of one of the girls playing with a toy voice recorder is paired with the simplest of piano chords to surprising and haunting effect. Becoming isn't a lo-fi album, but thanks to those fuzzy recordings and the sometimes off-kilter arrangements, it has the sentimental, handmade feel of early Cloud Cult. Another link to Cloud Cult is how visual art is woven into the project - there's a companion painting by Betony for every one of Giants & Pilgrims songs, though the whole Becoming series won't be available til November.
"Boxing Shadows", the album's first track, is in the mold of Almanac's best song, "We Are Proud", with a swirl of horns and guitar in the chorus that that just keeps growing with each verse. The lyrics take aim at our tendency to orient toward a particular goal, or epoch, or achievement that, when it does actually come true, seems paltry and anticlimactic. As Tim sings on the song, "You got the part, you got the part/But why are all lines so damn short?". There's joy in finding your plan is insufficient, though - on "Elixirs", where his voice lives in an almost womanly upper register, Tim is a old mountain sage forsaking his throne of wisdom to clamber back down and sip from the fountain of youth. Sure, there's insight to be gotten from age, but nothing's like being shocked by the coldness and freshness of the water at the headsprings of life.
Another touch is the beautiful baritone sax that graces "Eventually" and "You Seem Yourself". The former offers comfort to those who've waited years for their faith to bear fruit - "Heaven's ship sails slow/Give it time, it'll show" - and on the latter the sax's growl is complemented by gentle video-game bleeps and a sample that sounds like an aluminum bat scraped across a pane of glass. It's terrific, and certainly the most textured soundscape Giants & Pilgrims have yet put together.
Becoming ends with a brief track where Tim dwells on the fallout caused by absent fathers, and when he poses the question "Will you stay?/Or will you get going?", it's like he's placing the words in the mouths of his daughters, who you can hear chattering and singing blissfully to themselves in the background. It's touching, but there's a cosmological analog as well: in this world of constant flux, we can have courage to become what we're meant to be because we're protected by an unchanging Father who never leaves and never forsakes.