In the summer of 2018 wildfires tore through British Columbia, leaving the city of Kelowna enveloped in smoke. Composer and singer Ian William Craig, who had temporarily relocated there from his Vancouver home, recorded what would become Red Sun Through Smoke. Craig’s grandfather had moved to a long-term care facility, and Craig decided to use his grandfather’s house as a makeshift recording studio, and the piano there as the album’s cornerstone. The morning after Craig arrived, his grandfather was relocated to palliative care because of the effects of the smoke on his health. One week later, he passed away.
Grief’s intense ache is felt throughout Red Sun Through Smoke. Standout piano ballads like “Weight” and the album closer “Stories” find Craig meditating on the role of memories. “The Smokefallen” begins sounding clean, but eventually—mirroring Kelowna’s air—it grows thick with coarse, tape-deck-produced distortion. A stunning collision of pain happens on the minimalist “Supper” as Craig traces, like a finger along a scratch on a table, a simple piano melody with his voice, singing, “We had grief for supper.”
At the same time as the tragic circumstances attending the creation of Red Sun Through Smoke unfolded, Craig was basking in the soft glow of a new relationship. In a noticeable but satisfying shift away from the dense dronescapes of Craigs past recordings, his happiness finds its way into this latest record, which sounds surprisingly light at times. The piano and Craig’s vocals are relatively undisturbed, while songs like the meditative “Far and Then Farther” have the feel of falling into a feathery pillow. With expert precision, Craig balances lightness and darkness on Red Sun Through Smoke to make a powerful meditation on love and loss.