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Hilary Woods finds Acts of Light in the shadows

"Acts of Light"

Release date: 03 November 2023
Hilary Woods Acts of Light cover
03 November 2023, 17:00 Written by Kate Crudgington

An affecting, aural expansion on memory, love and loss, Hilary Woods finds grace amongst the gloom on her new album, Acts of Light.

Her third full-length release via iconic label Sacred Bones, the Irish multi-instrumentalist has crafted nine shadowy fugues that flicker and fascinate the senses, gripping listeners with her instinctive, ominous sounds.

Following on from her second record, Birthmarks (2020), and her hypnotic self-released EP, Feral Hymns (2021), Woods has experimented with sonics even further on her new album. Written, recorded, mixed and produced by Woods over the two years she spent between the west coast of Ireland and Dublin, Acts of Light includes a myriad of idiosyncratic sounds.

Featuring the hypnotic voices of the Palestrina choir, together with the Galway City Chamber Choir, strings by Oslo-based musician Jo Berger Myhre, and interspersed with field recordings that Woods collected during her time spent travelling through the northwest of Spain, these elements have culminated into the nine “hypnotic dirges” that make up Acts of Light, forming a truly potent and disarming body of work.

Opening piece “Burial Rites” is a magnetic cogitation inspired by the Gaelic Celtic ritual of Keening – a traditional form of vocal lament when mourning for the dead. It’s a stirring rumination that powerfully conveys a sense of absence, whilst simultaneously providing a primal form of wordless connection. This reflective, murky mood permeates Acts of Light, the full effect of which is best felt when listened to in one uninterrupted sitting.

Woods’ instrumentals have an ominous glow. “Ochre” and “Blood Orange” radiate with unearthly intensity, whilst her blend of scratchy field recordings, hypnotic voices, and droning instrumentation on “Wife Mother Lover Crow” beautifully articulate the heavier gothic qualities of the record. This is deftly captured again on “Where The Bough Has Broken”. Shadowy and evocative, the track is an ode to community and memory, inspired by Woods’ experience of living and growing up in Dublin.

Despite its dense nature, Acts of Light does offer listeners specks of luminescence. Berger Myhre’s distinctive string work shines through on “Awakening” and “The Foot of Love”, whilst the dual voices of the choirs that Woods captured in a cathedral in Dublin are particularly haunting on eponymous piece “Acts Of Light”. Her stirring, considered instrumentation conveys an instinctive ability and understanding of the effect and importance of sound, for underscoring both private and public ritual.

It may be shrouded in shadow, but Acts of Light is a hopeful record, rooted in intense feeling, nostalgia and desire to connect the past with the present. Woods’ talent for communicating these emotions commands a solemn and sublime respect.

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