The epistolary review, where I swap letters with a musical artist to collaboratively explore, dissect, ponder and inevitably illuminate the new release of songs by another individual music artist-- IS BACK
This time, Detroit's most charming and cerebral of modern folk singers, Audra Kubat, is putting down her guitar and going back to the keyboard to use her erudite ways with the written word, and instead of expressing her own lyrics, she will now divine what she can from the lyrics and sounds of Michigan/California-creator of ambient-folk-scapes, Mr. Chris Bathgate
Chris Bathgate released Dizzy Seas on Quite Scientific last Friday.
Over the next 10 weeks, Kubat and I will share with you our thoughts and experiences of a single track. We hope this expands perspectives on how much can actually be discovered inside of an album, that the parts are greater taken one at a time, than as a whole...
Without further ado... Play the song below (maybe even loop it,) and enjoy the first bit of communique between Kubat and I....
I'm very excited to begin a fresh batch of letters about an album. I'm excited to transition from exploring YOUR work to, now, working with you, as we piece our way through the brand new album from Chris Bathgate.
I have to say, at the onset of this 2nd installment of epistolary album reviewing, that both of you have held a comparable sway over me, in terms of the relationship a listener has to a songwriter - not that your music or your lyrical signatures are similar so to speak, but that both of you create music that sounds quietly powerful.
I feel like I'm going to risk throwing around the word "profound...," too much, in the letters ahead. But let's just dive in to "Water," the first track from Dizzy Seas.
Chris' voice vaults in just a fraction of a measure before the music--not sure if that's a synthesized bassline, but it is quick to start carrying his striding cadence with this notable furtiveness. This song, slightly akin to the song "Calvary," from 2016, shows Chris' proclivity towards merging the meditative and the almost-manic. Putting soft, swaying ambient drones over a percussive element that sounds like it's urgent, or racing, or restless. This is the case with that elegant violin breathing sweetly over a bassline and a second analog synth pulse that are just about jittery... Or maybe not jittery... Maybe they are just babbling along like a brook.
Yes, I had to bring a brook into this, some kind of watery imagery. Bathgate's latest tract seems to be not quite folk or Americana, but something that jumps off of those organic sounds and seeks some new kind of genre - and whatever that genre is, it's a sound, production-wise, that seems bent on creating a magical effect that evokes a sense of the outdoors. I think that's evident in the way there seems to be lots of ambient tones sort of swaying or breezing at the very edged curtains of the song's aural environment. I feel, indeed, that there is space around me, and there are images that come in when his lyrics describe the water, and the way the light plays upon it...
I also appreciate the production here. There is, just about 45 seconds before its conclusion, the sound of what seems to be a motorboat starting up with a metallic growl... And it propels the song forward just after a lulling period. Either in a car or on headphones, that is a interestingly startling to hear.
It makes me wonder how typical it is, in terms of the experience of songwritnig (not the process, but the experience...) wherein images actually come to YOU. It makes me feel like you and Chris can be as painters, sometimes..., at least in the studio!
Eager to hear your thoughts
And eager to write more letters
I am also excited to begin the next installment of letters. As a songwriter, I'm often thinking deeply about music and lyrics, yet I rarely have the opportunity to talk in depth about my thoughts on songs by others.
I dove into 'Dizzy Seas' and its first track – 'Water'. I also took notice of Chris' voice as it enters alone (just for that split second, the song stands in frozen solitude). It's almost jarring and in that same space of time, it feels as if the song has always been playing. That it had existed before it was audible.
The entrance of this song calls me to attention. This seems like a purposeful shock as if, like his words, we are being cast across the unknown of the ocean's cold waters, cushioned only by that voice: singular, rounded, hushed yet knowing. I feel that this song is preparing us for our journey through this album. His thoughts aren't in his control, they reflect against waves, scatter and shift with the changing of tides and the whims of rippling seas. His words stretch out and can be felt or they can be quieted or stilled, and even lost in creases that flank pathways. Regardless, he 'calls it out'. He 'calms it down'.
I agree that the music is meditative, yet the rolling of the brushed drums asks me to stay attentive. The pulsing underbelly pushes me along – it's urgent without feeling rushed (tricky thing to accomplish in music). There's a place we're being led to through a soundscape with subtle pads and cymbal splashes, a distance voice and an additional layer of moody organ, maybe. This song extends past genre for me, it has a timelessness. Again, it seems to have always existed. I imagine Chris placing his hands in the bone-chilled river to capture this song.
Then the violins come in and turn on the light, a beacon, playing as voices that quell, calm, and call. A hymn. This brings me back to the beginning of this letter. For me this song is an invitation to walk along side this album, knowing each track is learning about themselves as they play out of headphones, car stereos, and laptops. I wonder if Chris is asking us to be open in this song...to understand that the songwriter sends their songs out into the world without knowing when, where, or how they will land.
I hope I was able to paint an image that reflects. On my first listen, I felt I was being called by it. To join, to submit, to close my eyes and go blindly. So I did.
I look forward to writing these with you, Jeff!