The Book of Transfigurations
For those unaware, Dálava is the combined forces of guitarist Aram Bajakian (who has worked with the legendary John Zorn), and vocalist Julia Ulehla. Drawing upon the work of her great-grandfather and ancestors, Ulehla establishes Dálava as an homage to traditional Moravian folk music. Moravian folk is tied to a part of European musical culture, connected with the Moravian region of the Czech Republic. The Book of Transfigurations dives into a world of spirits, delicately wrapped in ethereal instrumentation. This style ranges from airy and minimal composition, to rowdy rock and roll.
Ulehla provides beautiful vocalization, and while all the lyrics are in Czech, the inflection of her voice exudes emotion. Her singing portrays shades of sadness and happiness that flow with the instrumentals. There is a hazy ambience underlining the music that mixes instruments ranging from harmonica to drums. What jumps out the most however is Bajakian’s guitar work. Throughout the record, the guitar emits everything from wavy distortions, to low dreamy tones. Reflecting at times off the drumming, Dálava toss in jazzy progressions, or turn up with rock intensity.
“Grass” is a pure ambient track with Ulehla’s vocals that create a peaceful landscape within the mind. Slow flowing and dreamy vocal work shines off the twinkling electronic and nature sounds. This is one of the more common vibes to be found throughout The Book of Transfigurations. “The Rocks Began to Crumble” is the first time Dálava throw in one of their drastic shifts in style. With a poppy beat and heftier drumming, Bajakian plays on with a twangy guitar sound that borders surf rock tunes. Where The Book of Transfigurations primarily has a lot of that dreamy atmosphere to it, these more upbeat moments add a sense of fun to the music. Ulehla strives to match the intensity of the instrumentals, and in “The Rocks Began to Crumble”, the distortion of her voice and instrumentals clash. However, in “Red Violet”, where that distortion is stripped away, the two aspects blend well together. When she attempts to keep her voice low and sings rather than yells, it adds a contrast to the intense guitar work that allow both elements to stand out.
The majority of the record however reflects the atmosphere of tracks such as “Grass”. Songs such as “Carnival”, “War”, and “Souling”, all present a gentle energy. There isn’t much in the sense of instrumental progression or technicality, but pieces that act as a means of meditation. Combinations of somber guitar picking, chimes, and ambient electronics give off the impression of sadness, contemplation, and simplicity. This is more music that is there to settle and make an emotional impression within the listener, presenting its story.
The fusion that takes place from Ulehla’s singing and instrumentals make for a spiritual journey. At rare times the vocals and instrumentals clash into one another, but mostly The Book of Transfigurations progresses like a calm river. Surprising shifts in style take place at times, but the album is pretty standard in its flow overall. It would have been nice to hear more of a range from this culture’s music with the upbeat moments. Still however, Dálava have created a unique work that captures a sense of culture and history that is intriguing. Its range of instruments and radiant singing generate an intimate reaction to the music, connecting the listener into the atmosphere. It is a work that presents just enough to guide one on a journey to learn more about the magic found in other parts of the world.