The Innocence Mission: See You Tomorrow (Thérèse Records) is Music As Medicine
In a career spanning more than 30 years – beginning with the release of ‘89s The Innocence Mission for Quiet Corner – they’ve owned a musical category all to themselves. It might begin and end with the ethereal, heart-melting, other-worldly vocals of Karen Peris – a voice that either stops you in your tracks or shuts you down completely. Yet, as Karen would likely admit, she’s only half of this award-winning recipe. Husband, Don Peris, adds delicately-twisted musical genius to her one-of-a-kind voice, lifting and transforming what might otherwise be known as folk-pop into a brave new world of their making – alt-rock, dream-pop or chamber-folk to some. It’s life-affirming medicine to others.
If you’ve followed their trajectory, you may recall the early buzz around their initial major label release, Umbrella, produced by Larry Klein, at the behest of then-wife Joni Mitchell. Their second A&M release, ‘95s Glow, earned a spot on the Empire Records soundtrack and “Bright As Yellow” lent them the limelight that seemed to evade them otherwise. The intimacy of Karen’s tiny, intimate vignettes of life would gain increasing prominence with the acceleration of their combined abilities to wrap each song in a warm, sensual arrangement with what seems a minimal amount of instrumentation – provided by the talented twosome and long-time bassist/band member, Mike Bitts.
While Don is a master of guitars, he adds drums, timpani and the occasional vocal while Karen not only pens the majority of the songs and helms the piano, also contributing guitars, pump organ, accordion, melodica, electric bass, mellotron, harmonica and electronic strings.
Still anchored in the tiny inland town of Lancaster in Southwest Pennsylvania, themes of community join those of connection and love on this, their 12th release. See You Tomorrow emerged last January, its title falling from the lyric of the lead track, “The Brothers Williams Said” – a seemingly sad and forlorn composition which counters the awkwardness and misunderstanding inherent in everyday life with loving support. Peris’ piano sets the stage for her introspective, always-emotionally-charged style. Cue strings and percussion as the arrangement ebbs and flows.
The prominent use of delicately-picked, nylon-stringed guitar against electronic strings supply the overall hook for the dramatic “On Your Side”– another play on the support of family – while “Movie” is given life by Peris’ piano – delivered like so much rippling water, accompanied by acoustic guitar, simulating the motion of celluloid flickering by.
A highlight is found in “We Don’t Know How To Say Why” – only slightly interrupting the dream sequence to remind us that there is strength in fragility – as guitar joins keyboard, bass and drums, helping to keep Karen’s airborne vocal from drifting, helplessly, away. “St. Francis and the Future” proves more of the same – delicately-plucked guitar, bass and melodica adding painterly touches to a vision of the future which also mourns the loss of the past. Karen’s voice has been likened to that of Harriet Wheeler’s (Sundays) and Natalie Merchant’s (10,000 Maniacs) yet, unlike the others, her’s – alone – that retains a soft, childlike (dare I say) innocence, providing the band’s ultimate hook. It instantly transports you back to a time when you’re a guest at your younger sister’s tea party, from days gone by.
Adjusting the colors, the darker sustain cast by the piano introducing “John As Well” joins with strumming guitar and surreal-sounding background vocals which builds to a full angelic choir, casting yet another disarming spell over the limitations of conversation. Another high point, “Mary Margaret In Mid-Air” brings Don’s vocals out to play. Using little more than guitar, piano and odd percussive effects, the couple’s harmonies blend together to create another number you can’t listen to too often.
Don’s medieval-sounding acoustic merges with accordion, bass and mellotron on the celestial “Stars That Fall Away From Us” for an effect falling somewhere between church and the belly of a seafaring ship. The last of 11 tracks, “I Would Be There” opens with melodica, closing this collection with an upbeat collision of instruments – a final celebration of everything that makes us human.
Recorded predominantly in different parts of their house, See You Tomorrow bursts with the warmth and intimacy of a home-cooked Sunday dinner – its very title seeming to reassure us that, pandemic and politics aside, everything will be eventually be alright. An entirely haunting release, in a good way. https://theinnocencemission.com/