Written by: Dave Cantrell
Given the shape-shifting textures the band trades in, their sound vaporous but shimmering with a bold presence – ghosts that cast shadows, that sort of thing – it’s fitting to say that Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus are, with Mirror, both back and not back. After their rather sudden re-emergence in 2015 after a 20-year absence bore significant fruit – the album, Beauty Will Save the World, also on Occultation, not only receiving high praise from a suitably stunned press (including SEM) but also selling well – it would make traditionally strategic sense to capitalize on that success two years hence, which RAIJ both are and aren’t. For those that have known of this enigmatic Liverpool band from the start (and who’d know that Mirror is a first-time-on-vinyl reissue of a 1991 release) these little linguistic riddles will make a certain head-nodding sense, but for the rest a quick explanation.By their artistic nature a tad contrarian, by their Merseyside temperament perhaps a tad more so, RAIJ don’t tend to follow the common templates. The core trio – Paul Boyce, Jon Egan, Leslie Hampson (guests fill in as needed, there are eight on Mirror) – have such little patience for promotion it borders on a kind of proactive, guerrilla-level apathy, agreeing to almost zero interviews and not touring especially widely, a policy that acts as an outward indication of how reclusively protective they are about their artistry, a position the music they produce wholly justifies.
As to that music, its overall sensual impact, try this: Think of that liminal state of consciousness you sometimes catch yourself in, stopped still in one of those inadvertent trances as you’re staring at a window and notice yourself lost between foci, your perception – and therefore your very presence – switching sides involuntarily from the here to the there to the in-between, from what’s behind the glass to what’s passing behind you in reflection to your own image staring in blank abeyance. Your choice is to either snap out of it or remain floating in something akin to a fourth dimension. Listening to an RAIJ album can be like that (sight transformed to sound) and though one need make one’s own decisions about this sort of thing, we do recommend that latter option.
While by some measures not quite as full nor realized as Beauty – this earlier effort strikes as more a journal of a band searching for the whole body immersive experience they’ve since found and mastered – Mirror nonetheless captures. Using as aesthetic stepping-stone their primary muse Andrei Tartovsky – this reissue’s cover features a rendering, by artist Paul Mellor, of the very first frame of the Tarkovsky movie from which Mirror takes its name – the band traverse from the deeply grounded exotica of the well-named “Shadowlands,” through the lovingly lachrymose terrain of “Immaculado,” its air of a strong abiding peasant empathy channeled through an ethereal female harmony as well the plaintive reassurances of guest Sue Boyce’s flute and at least a dozen more layered elements, percussive and otherwise; travel further on into the relative wilds of “Hymn to Dionysus” – a cataract of propulsive drums, reverb-shadowed vox pulled through the mix with something of a disembodied abandon, echoed effects in general everywhere plashing, the dynamism and reckless charisma of the track’s namesake god duly represented in a two-minute, fifty-second explosion of the id. And whereas such shifts indeed indicate an inveterate versatility of mood – the track after “Hymn..,” “Nostalgia,” lays a monkish surge of haunting synth drones under someone reading what sounds like Albanian latin before evolving into a kind of avant-folk reading of Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi – the truth is more a story of intuitively-linked cohesion, a phrase – and concept – RAIJ would likely embrace and fearlessly.
Eventually, as this record unspools through its stages of predominantly quiet, if no less immodest, grandeur – “Psalm” passing with a liturgical grace, “Nativity” sorting itself through flurries of ricocheting chaos and a white noise vulnerability, the cinematic “Man of Sorrows” pursuing redemption with tablaesque rhythms and an achingly grand humility – one comes to see the invincible wisdom of the Rev Army’s reluctance to participate in nearly any aspect of their own promotion. Interviews, after all, are at their core a form of explaining oneself, explaining one’s art, and it becomes an irrefutable fact, listening to this or any RAIJ album, that, like Miles or Thelonious or the rarefied others that have allowed themselves to be intensely subsumed by their work, sacrificed to it in a very real sense, this music, most adamantly, speaks for itself. These aren’t the type sounds you address in a dry promotional context. Mystique, in the end, is a quality best left undiscussed.