Music for Music: Heirloome’s Cycles
By Dan Ursini © 2022
A haunting blended tone, both grounded and ethereal, defines Cycles, the latest release by a singer-songwriter who self-identifies as “queer/nonbinary Australian artist Heirloome (they/them).” This music is imbued by a unique vibe that reflects the place where it was created. Heirloome states, “I live on top of a misty, rainforested, and impossibly green mountain in Australia. The land belongs to the Gumbaynggir people—part of the most ancient living culture on planet earth. The place itself is filled with mysticism and beauty that runs deeper than just the rush of waterfalls….it’s written into the very fabric of the place, in an unbroken line that seems to have been around longer than we’ve been recording time itself.”
The music of Cycles was “written for my little brother, who passed away suddenly.” It is a three-song EP which works as a single expansive statement on the grieving process from the standpoint of an individual whose spiritual convictions align with the mysticism of their surroundings.” Heirloome states, “I believe firmly and unshakeably in magic. I believe in the language of flowers, and stars, and the spirit—and when I lean in to these beliefs I can feel the wholeness of the life cycle, and, sometimes, I even find peace with it.”
Heirloome handles the vocals, music, and lyrics for all the compositions, while collaborating on string arrangements and production. Each song is built around serpentine melodies with rich string and keyboard conversations alongside shifting streams of natural and synthesized ambient sound. Heirloome uses the term “chamber pop/indietronica” to describe the style. The pacing of the songs is slow and relaxed, allowing the gentle conviction of the vocals to grip the listener. They come from deep within, originating in the night thoughts we all have when a loved one passes. The lyrics reveal the essential elements of Heirloome’s brother and their relationship. In the first song, “In Stillness, In Sound,” we learn their bond was a close one: “it was just me and you.” Heirloome struggles with impulses no longer relevant, like writing him a letter on the phone.
Please note: there are two versions of “In Stillness, In Sound” on YouTube. Both are visually striking. The Official Video version is more recent.
Heirloome – In Stillness, In Sound (Official Video)
In “Cycles” we learn “He was born for this goodbye” and he shows up in dreams with a “face old and young at once”—surely the look of someone in a life outside of time.
Heirloome – Cycles
In the third song, “Flesh To Flower,” the reincarnated sibling returns as a flower, and Heirloome asks,
Brother tell me, did it hurt
Being born again in the dirt
Did someone hold your hand
Did you call the angels in?
Did you think of me?
The transformation is complete but the love continues.
Heirloome – Flesh To Flower (Official Video)
As Heirloome explains, “Lyrically, all of the songs on Cycles were improvised as I sang… “Flesh to Flower,” for example, was written as I lay on my back singing to my brother’s spirit, asking him questions directly. In that way, the words truly are the private voice in my head.”
This highly personal music had an intriguing evolution. Heirloome explains, “I began singing lessons as a child with the flowers in my Nana’s backyard, and the blue-tongued lizard that lived in her daisy bush. I watched old, black-and-white movies as a young child and would mimic the voices in those beautiful, warbling choirs from film scores. I’d sing lullabies to dead birds or insects, and invent songs for neighbourhood trees.”
Traces of those soundtracks are powerfully evoked through the production by Julien Mier. He blends various kinds of ambient sound with traditional-sounding instruments like the mellotron and with background choirs. The searing string arrangements by Dryden Thomas deepen the poignant contours of the music. The combined effect is both nostalgic and otherworldly. Heirloome says, “As a person I feel very between-worlds, and I think that comes through sonically.” Indeed, the combined elements of singer and song, arrangements, and production result in a fifteen-minute sonic sculpture of a human mind processing the death of a sibling in slow ruminative stages. This is deeply intriguing music.
Dan Ursini and his wife Valerie live in Oak Park, Illinois. Over the years he has done many kinds of writing. Ursini served as the first resident playwright for the Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago (1978-1983); he worked for ten years as a Contributing Editor for Puerto Del Sol magazine; he wrote performance art pieces presented at Chicago venues as Club Lower Links and Club Dreamerz. Ursini wrote radio theatre presented on NPR in the early 1990s. Throughout all this, he has worked full-time at the Law Library at DePaul University where for a decade he also wrote articles for Dialogue, the DePaul law school’s alumni publication. In addition, he was active for some years as a bass guitarist in various Chicago blues/gospel/funk/lounge configurations. Currently Ursini is working on his latest novel. A play he wrote with Robert Rothman, A Mensch Among Men, a fictionalized account of real-life Jewish Chicago-area gangsters, has had two staged readings in Chicago. Dan can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org