Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What a journey... Milo & Bathgate on Mended Vessel (penultimate essay)

Chris Bathgate and I started writing letters two months ago. Each letter has been devoted to analyzing one singular track from Audra Kubat's Mended Vessel. 

We only have one more to go after this...
This song is called "Tear Out Your Eyes"

(ed. note: Audra Kubat performed this song on my talk show last October

Hey Chris

Your own album is going to be out soon! Are you getting anxious? What predominates your emotional silo, when something like this gets near... Be it an album release, or a "big show" or a tour, is it eagerness? Is it dread? Is it relief?

I can tell you, not to divert too much from the song we have to discuss ("Tear Out Your Eyes,") that the energy I detected from Aurda Kubat when I spoke with her a week before the release of Mended Vessel was something akin to a quiet transcendence. She seemed to have come out of a chrysalis--as this album had been gestating for four years, and she'd gone through it three times, only to finally discover this perfect span of time, circumstances, and collaborators, to create the album she'd been hoping to make--all along.

"Tear Out Your Eyes" sounds like a singer who has nothing to lose. And I don't mean that in the typical cliched sense. I mean that her voice, and the rather brutal phrasings she's employing for her expression, sound as though they're coming from someone who's been over a mountain; an unforgiving mountain. There's a bit of realistic/existential/resoluteness to the revelation of this song. I know this isn't what she is going for, but tearing out ones eyes is a startlingly profound way for me to imagine gaining a new perspective. Or, perhaps, to use another cliche - dropping the proverbial scales from ones eyes.

After working on her craft for 20+ years, Audra does not have any illusions. There is no mirage that her eyes can see. And this goes back to how raw, beautiful--yes, absolutely beautiful--but also raw, this whole album is. Beautifully raw. Tender. Vulnerable. Scars revealed from sleeves having been rolled up. "Love is too tired..." is a phrase that sticks out... That love, this thing that we give a sanctified power to (...thanks, Beatles), can actually be exhausted, is a sobering thought to consider.

But atmosphere, let's talk about that. I love the ghostly purr of that guitar, the way it bends-- not the acoustic guitar, but the quiet electric... And we have to reiterate her sense for dynamics, the way her voice gets fuller, and louder, and yet kind of breaks in a way, when she hits the chorus. The way you can hear thick, strong oak trees creaking with fragility when a wind storm comes through? And how that stops you, to consider how this big, bone-like, trunked organism could sound as though it might break, might snap....despite how majestic and mighty it may appear... that sums up this song, and Audra's sung sentiments... for me....

That's all for now, Chris
We have one more song ot go
talk soon

Howdy Jeff,

It’s all of those: eagerness, dread, and eventual relief. It’s more as well. Perhaps I also feel some sort of paternal pride. Though, I have to admit my mental sights are set on whats next; I’m already in the throws of something new. My tinges of album publishing energy feel more like an undercurrent, rather than oppresively governing me. Now, the thing that has yet to happen, a show, THE show, fills my emotional windshield. That eagerness is very present currently..  

Quizzically, it's no shock that you witnessed Audra in “quiet transcendence”. I’m uncertain if the matter of factness of Tear Out Your Eyes (currently pouring out of my headphones) makes that sound logical, or if speaking to Audra in person recently gave me some flash of what you experienced. Maybe Mended Vessel itself was in the chrysalis, though metaphorically a chrysalis might rule out the necessity of failure. We have to uncover so many dead-ends before we see our successes. We have to record instruments to find out they don’t belong in a song. I wonder how many sentences we’ve deleted from these letters while in process. To paraphrase Emerson, failures are preparations for success.  It’s a shame that the word failure feels, and perhaps is, pejorative. And maybe that word makes it feel like a process has ended.  Scrapping a record twice, that feels more like brave quality control to me. I can’t deny her interview responses though, sometimes the art waits on the artist.  

There is a  stark, shocking, unapologetic timbre to Audra’s voice on “Tear Out Your Eyes", as you’ve said, with nothing to lose. Souls as lined up paper dolls, the crying trees, walking to the ocean, these images get us there. This song has no qualms with its own darkness. I truly feel this resoluteness you speak of, but it feels as though that information comes only from her vocal delivery, and is transmitted indirectly. While lines like “Is it god that you’re bowing to, or is it your fear, either way you cannot win”, do point me to existentialism and realism–a profound combination.  That rawness, and I’m in full agreement when you say “Beautifully raw”, is something that has gripped me across Mended Vessel as well, a purposeful vulnerability.  Though, this specific song's lyrics, accomplish a very specific kind of rawness, that feels shellac’d into us, by this morose and, again, nuanced arrangement. 

These electrics, whether they are slide guitar or lap steel, deliver a kind of mournfulness that embodies a slightly different emotion than Audra’s vocals.  The design of their melodies are transcendent in their own right. This instrumental section at 2:21, the call and response in the stereo field, is a totally cathartic wash over me moment.  The left ear singing into the next chord, the right ear repeating this sorrowful melodic shape, is  the sleeper-hit moment, for me on this record.  Just that little break, its math, reaffirms and adds something ineffable to “Tear Out Your Eyes”.  I can’t let this letter close without mentioning the understated organ.  So simple, yet potent. I wonder, if we in a way are programed to hear organ, organ like this, as sacred.  Perhaps my own early days of church going are causing me to inject my experience onto this song, but it ads an element of bereft, solemn ceremony.  We learned early on, the production decisions made by Audra and her team have honored and created subtly and nuance. This songs choral line, “If love is too tired and the pain is too fierce, let the tide come and wash you clean” is one I’m fascinated with.  What seems to be a solution, or perhaps a resolution, does not attempt to undo the trespass that perhaps caused us to seek solace in the first place.  Maybe this is another gesture of Audra’s “realistic/existential/resoluteness”.  As though we can’t change the things that have happened to us, or that we’ve had to bare, but we can find rejuvenation in other ways, without undoing, to let the tide wash us clean. 

The ending lines of this song, so far, are my favorite closing lyrics, across mended vessel.

“Then I saw her on the shoreline, a starfish in her hand, she looked up at me and she smiled. She pointed toward the setting sun, as a flock of birds blocked the moon, and in the stars she traced the word: Dream”. 

The impact of that language is slightly on the edge of sense, you feel it before you try and understand it. I have to note that the sparseness the song traverses just before this closing line is delivered, is further proof of intelligent design in this songs production. At 4:00 minutes, the acoustic guitar takes a rest, the organ drones on, a light tambourine is in the distance, and every part of the song steps back to let the word “clean” ring out, in solitary significance. 

One more, what a journey. 


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