Hailing from Greensboro, NC, The Collection’s sound can only be described as everything idyllic about the South and more. They transport you to a place where it’s quite normal to have some banjo-slinging, fiddle-playing best friends over on the pristine white porch where you grew up for a jam session and some beer. And yet, they still manage to give their bluegrass foundation a modern update reminiscent of bands like The Lumineers, Beirut and Fleet Foxes. It’s all lovely and hearty, and makes you yearn to be on that white porch with them, witnessing the whole spectacularly casual event.
Unfortunately, you will probably never experience a jam session so perfect in your life, but you can live vicariously through The Collection with their first full-length album, Ars Moriendi. Though the album’s title is Latin for “the art of dying,” it’s not as morbid as its title implies. In fact, the record employs the same beautiful progression of a beer-filled night with friends, beginning with the bang that is “From Dust,” an ambient instrumental composition of violins, tinkering bells, and xylophones that crests at the end of its brief 56 seconds to set the mood for following upbeat tracks “Scala Naturae,” “The Borrowers” and “The Gown Of Green.”
Then about halfway through the record, you can hear The Collection sober up and become more contemplative, even melancholy. Songs like “The Younger One” and “The Middle One” are simultaneously tinged with sadness and joy, commemorations of the band’s friends and family recently departed who inspired Ars Moriendi’s themes of “life, death, hope, and the point of it all” as well as redemption, according to The Collection’s website.
Things take a more existential turn when the group approaches the block of songs about death toward the end of the album—“The Doubtful One,” title-track “The Art Of Dying,” “Broken Tether” and “Some Days I Don’t Want To Sing (O’ Death Where Is Thy Sting?).” These songs are heavier thematically, sometimes employing one instrument to symbolize the loneliness of dealing with one’s personal thoughts and burdens, and sometimes instrumentally, utilizing the entire family band at certain points to draw attention to one of the record’s key questions—what happens when you die? Like the middle tracks, these songs are musings as well as celebrations of what lies beyond the grave (and judging by the lyrics rife with Christian references, the afterlife is looking pretty full of milk and honey).
At the end of Ars Moriendi, The Collection are completely sober. Yet in spite of the serious topics on their mind, their lust for life never wanes. Album closer “To Dust” ties in the finality of death with the end of the record, but is full of hope, solace and serves as The Collection’s reaffirmation that life and love are worth toiling for, even if the existential questions never get answered in your lifetime.
Ars Moriendi is a fantastic first effort by a band that has been making music for years without any other musical output. The mere fact that The Collection used Kickstarter to fund the album and received over $16,000 from donors means that fans have faith in them—and after listening to Ars Moriendi, I do, too. Even if you don’t buy the album, keep this group on your radar—they’re going places.
In A Word: Superb