While some old school artists find reasons to lament the shift from the tactile joys of CD sales and ownership to the digital, streaming and playlist age of consumption, other, more prescient musicians are embracing full throttle the unique possibilities that this era offers in terms of ongoing creative expression. Inspired by the popularity of guitarist Lance Allen’s weekly track releases, American born, Auckland, New Zealand based emerging new age pianist/composer Rachel LaFond has embarked on extraordinary and expansive, still in progress undertaking called The 52.
Starting in March 2019 with the soulful, spirited and whimsical “She Dreams of Flight,” the multi-talented artist is currently over 30 tracks into fulfilling her lofty goal of releasing a single per week for 52 weeks. Each release is accompanied by beautiful artwork, which LaFond creates herself, that reflects the song’s theme.
The idea came to her after the quickly paced releases of the three full length albums that have established her as one of the genre’s budding stars, Wandering Soul (2017), Encounters of the Beautiful Kind (June 2018) and Well Past Midnight (October 2018). When she released her debut, she explained that the majority of its songs were created while backpacking around the world with her husband after leaving Seattle and corporate America. She drew on the inspiration of all the places they visited and the people they met, rushing to a piano wherever she could find one, and releasing the project after they settled in New Zealand.
The 52 is a journey of a whole other kind, a deep commitment and powerful challenge whereby LaFond mainly composes original works, but also on occasion offers her own artful interpretations well known pieces, from Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” to the theme and score music from “Game of Thrones.” I agree with her that strictly album-oriented artists are always trying to create songs around themes and specific moods. The true joy of 52 is not knowing what she’ll offer us next.
Will it be a graceful, reflective solo piece like “She Shines” or “Stories the Wind Could Tell”? A breezy, faster-paced stroll through an urban landscape like “Skyscraper Sunrise”? A bit of childlike whimsy written in hopes “To Catch a Dream”? A contemplation whose hypnotic high register notes fill us with awe and “Wonder”? Or maybe a soft, healing vibe offered like an elegy as we “Survey the Wreckage” of something or someone that’s lost and irretrievable?” You get the idea. Because there are no creative limits, we’re gifted with many different moods, energy levels, styles of music and titles that can set our imaginations stirring for meaningful connections.
While the majority of pieces are solo piano, some of the most compelling are collaborative pieces. The highlights among those include the epic, classically tinged “Just Beyond the Horizon,” which blends touches of melancholy with a spirited piano-cello dance. Also of note is “Evanescent,” a stark and sensual, ultra-relaxing piano-flute duet with Al Jewer that is no doubt already a part of numerous spa playlists.
Because she’s constantly posting to SoundCloud and adding to the Spotify playlist, you can experience her three-movement work The Ignite Saga (“Confluence,” “In the Dawnlight,” “Into the Unknown”) as a single listening experience with various emotional arcs and colorfully shifting dynamics.
“I really wanted to push myself as a composer to create more music, sharpen my skills, and try new things,” says LaFond, who studied piano in Vienna while in high school, majored in piano at the University of Washington and taught piano as a career before becoming a recording artist. “I also wanted to be able to actually share music with my listeners more often. With the album releases, I'd often found some pieces would be done and ready months and months before the others, and it was hard to keep them bottled up waiting for the rest of the album to come together.”
Listen to "The 52" Playlist here: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2GYUi2f0BtYZ9HbeaNqmKT
The 52 website includes all artwork and descriptions/inspiration for each track: https://rachellafond.com/the52/