Devotional music and its devotees all do a bit of "buying in"; that while one's on the ground reality may appear anything but celestial, through this music, one can reach ecstatic space, ecstatic peace. However, devotional music is not solely concerned with a skyward glance - what does it look like to raise up the rust, look upon fractured branches, gaze at the density of a low fog across a field? Instead of us looking up at the land, what if the land was looking back at us? Old Saw brings together a brigade of New England silt sifters to raise up the land not as excavators, but as preparators. Tending and caring for the simple mess that our world discards. Throughout "Country Tropics" four pieces, the crew stretches and bends chords to their resting place before setting forth towards a new one. Fiddle drone, wistful tape loops of pedal steel, pipe organ hums, and clattering bells call us to scenes of observation, a water tower, a mechanical bull rental agency, a back porch, a taxidermy shop, a local church choir, a garden with singing vines, voltage hum of the electric fence on Pulp mill bridge road. The funny thing about devotion is the absence of sight, of source. We place trust in the guide or guides to bring us to a place of seeing, feeling, and hearing. The music on "Country Tropics" calls out to those in search of such places, but also doesn't demand we conjure some fantastical, celestial vision of understanding. Rather, Old Saw points our gaze downward towards the terrafirma unconsidered, and guides our hands into the dirt.
Religious architecture functions both as a mode of creating shelter for reverence and worship while at the same time creating an aura of authenticity within a given community. Form functions differently than say the local post office building, the bank, the grocery store. A history and purpose simultaneously visible and obfuscated. The music created and shared within these spaces is assumed to exist in harmony with the moral and spiritual teachings of the associated sect. However, the spectral tracings of this music reveals an altogether more complex portrait of what our shared histories, languages, trauma, and traditions say about life lived between being and not being.
Vermont residents Weston Olencki and Jack Langdon situated themselves within the gnarled wood outpost of the Thetford Hill Church in Thetford, VT for their first output as UNIONBLOCK. A shared curiosity about the latent histories of American vernacular musics and what is both said and unsaid in the musical traditions of rural and working class American musical practices; they present the haunting and forceful album Thetford. Composed of the epic subterranean dirge, "Coupler" and the quick witted chaser of "Brick Whittle", the album finds Landgon employing mid century-era mechanical tracker organ and Olencki's own homemade electromagnetic banjos. Drones both fractured and contiguous, their offerings foreground the relationship between digital languages and mechanical construction.
Question making within the church is a peculiar and challenging proposition. We are told these spaces are where we find answers, respite from the unanswerable taunts that exists outside their spirited doorways. The architectural music of UNIONBLOCK provides no escape from these questions, but when we sit in the unknowing and surrender ourselves to this space, perhaps we can know a little more about how to live in harmony with the complexity of this land, its history, and its language.
Dylan M. Howe "Southern Gap"
Over the course of 10 years, Portland, OR artist Dylan M. Howe has been a groundswell of murky electronic dirges and glistening soundscapes. Under previous aliases (Airsports, C Plus Plus, Portland Compressor), Howe assembled a quilted portrait of the disparate zones that moved the earth beneath him. With “Southern Gap,” DMH is stepping out with his first proper release under his own name. A distillation of previous efforts, “Southern Gap,” is a confident gesture; a patient and pensive collection of tracks that point to an artist valuing growth, expansion and peace with the palette in which they color their world. Side A hitches itself to the echoing drone of a flute in “Arcade Flutes,” leading right into the obscured tenor of a melodica laying the groundwork for the pulsing ambient dub of “Ritual For Conscious Dying.” A flip of the platter leads the listener off with the tectonic hum of “Ninety Blocks,” which could easily find itself saddled alongside the organ-drone work of Sarah Davachi or Kali Malone. “Courtyard” summates the LP with the clattering of field recordings and the crescendoing of synthesizers, recalling “Fall IntoTime”-era Oneohtrix Point Never. As DMH puts it, “this is music for buildings that no longer serve a human purpose; a sonic embodiment of spaces that were once meant for dwelling but can function as such.” This record colors the landscape we know as too familiar; cold and vacuous spaces that occupy our communities blocks, but don’t lay out the welcome mat. Dylan M. Howe’s sensitive nod to the empty systems that shape our daily life is the embrace we too often go without.
"One Hundred Breakfasts with the Book"
Goal setting in late capitalism eerily reflects the very things that are unattainable in a capitalistic structure. Solidity and assuredness are for those who can afford it. Impermanence and instability for the rest. Naturally, when Ben Varian set out to record the music for "One Hundred Breakfasts with the Book", he had envisioned a simple rendering of his ideal pop album. Drums, bass, piano, some nice major and minor chords that he knew the names of. What Varian ended up producing is a zany, amorphous, and unpredictably beautiful telling of our imperfections. A votive for the beauty we shun that stares us in the face while embracing the potential of empty dreams and fantasies. Varian sums up this reflex when he sings in "Spend Some Time (With Your Mind)", Situps and pushups And a room with a view Cherries, strawberries Maybe drugs will do it too I know disaster, is my life-appointed coach But like a housecat coming inside I like to savor the approach. The promise of the fully realized self tantalizes yet ignores the true value inherent in our practice; our approach. The sculpted physique, the euphoria of a high are not ends unto themselves. They are myths that crush our beloved imperfections. Throughout the album, Ben remains masterful at telling stories of the beauty in our imperfections. In the AM Gold hued "Period Chart", he talks of his treasured abode as, "...our crackerbox palace on the second floor where the piano almost blocks the door." On "The Floor is a Lady Too", he assures the anxious musician, "you may not have that gold record yet, but you’re writing for the box set. One day you get closer to the Cheerios." Whether he is instructing an audience or doing some self-coaching, he never forgets that humor and levity are the ultimate myth busters. Ben remains a trustworthy guide through the exploration of the self, making sure our plates are loaded and palettes are expanded; never settling for standard singer-songwriter fare. Recalling the modal jazz missives of Herbie Hancock in "Wouldn't it be Nice", the Robert Wyatt bounce of "Portraits and Statues", and the David Berman country strut in "Goodbye Scoundrels", Ben's mood board is just as likely to induce a tear it is to bring your butt to the dance floor.