Monday, June 19, 2017
Epistolary Review with Audra Kubat: "Hide" -by Chris Bathgate
Hello again, and welcome to the 5th installment of our epistolary review of Chris Bathgate's Dizzy Seas. Audra Kubat wrote a letter to me while in the passenger set of a car coming all the way down from Mackinac Island on one of the hottest days of Spring....
This song is called "Hide"
This is the big one. I mean, I knew, after my first two spins of this record that THIS would be the most affecting, the strongest stirring of the senses, of all of the songs on Dizzy Seas. It’s like I was trying to hide from “Hide.”
I feel my entire insides whirl, and I'm compelled to heave the heaviest and deepest sigh I've ever exhaled. I asked Chris about the time it took him to put this album together and I was so surprised that him admit it was only a year or less, and that surprise mostly sprung from this song. The slow drape of this song, the way it flourishes and evaporates, as much as it ebbs and flows, feels so elemental, feels so imposing, feels like such a swelling for the soul, that I hypothesized its inception to have occupied countless hours, months, and at least multiple years. We mentioned how he’d challenged himself in “Beg,” and how it had a bit of a dark-night-of-the-soul sort of self-revelation. Oh my… “Oh my…” That song doesn’t come close to the reckoning here.
I have to say it again. Reckoning. I want the word to catch in my throat like stunted thunder; I want it to sting as I say it…I want rest and meditation to follow the echo of it when I half-scream it… This song has just wrung me out…, and I feel its ambient billows and thrumming guitars are the epitome of the dizzying effect… It’s like I didn’t even fully understand the word, “reckoning,” until I was able to detach myself, while listening to this song, and glide around in a fog of deep(er) contemplation.
What hits me most about this song is its predominance of subtlety over a specificity... Whereas I can namedrop several singer/songwriters who have put out exemplary “sad songs” that tell very detailed, very personalized stories, with narrative arcs and final acts of tragedy, “Hide” has power in its emptier spaces. This song is the clearing in the middle of the album’s deeper woods, where the loud quiet, the almost-unsettling echoes of wilderness, create this droning symphony of varying woozy melodic clamors and soft swoons. There seems to be such a give and take between two guitars, one of them more of a steady purr, the other crying softly towards the top of the mix. And that just leaves me with Chris’ voice…
This song goes way past the five-minute mark and yet there are only 30 words in the lyrics. The most poignantly punched element of his singing, here, is the way he affects the chorus, with that subdued wail: I had to listen to it so many times before I realized he was articulating the word “Hide…” When all I thought I heard, all I wanted to hear, all I needed…to hear…was a human voice, heaving…
There’s regret, here. There’s confession. There’s penitence. The guilt isn’t for any mortal sin, at least as society would consider it, but he is certainly admitting a nuanced kind of, well, this is a strong word, but: shame. No, that’s too strong a word. It’s a disappointment with past behaviors, for sure. But I want to emphasize what really pulls me about this song—his vocal performance. The space that all these cicada-like guitars gives his voice allows for the feeling of it to burst in slow motion. I feel him leaning, tilting, lurching, forward, forward forward…aching to stretch himself towards the very next minute of this very present, towards tomorrow, towards anywhere that is far from the person he was when he was behaving in this way, when he was hiding… This song says: no more. It says very little, lyrically. And yet it says SO much to me
I don't know how to start, this track is a contradiction. It sits perfectly still in the smallest of spaces, between undefinable and defiant clarity. The time slows, viscous, the changes almost imperceptible. As if sleeping in a knotted fit of regret. As you suggested, and I echo, the flow builds to a fall – through a frozen cascade of bulbous swells – organic pads or auxiliary organs. They breathe so carefully, these lifts and falls - it's almost labored (like an old accordion with worn out reeds and holes in the bellows). The sound seems drawn through an impossibly narrow space and as I listen, I feel a tightness in my own chest. It translates to a weight. I wonder if this is Chris getting something off the chest. I wonder, is this Chris' redemption song?
You talked about a reckoning and I see that here. There are consequences for hiding, and those seem to be translated through memories. Are they haunting? He says that the past is coming back – 'every hour, broken and dour, returns'. The past comes back cleaved and stoney, and though this song tells that side, it also tell a redemptive tale. He didn't kill anyone, he just stepped aside. There is forgiveness here. I see all the steps of grieving in this lyrically-minimal song and that is why I hear it as a mantra. As history comes calling, you honor it, study it, and name it. Then you try and understand your role and how you disappointed or fulfilled. Finally, you give yourself a pardon (or not). I think there is a pardon being reached for here. This is the mantra – remember, understand, forgive.
I move to that voice, placed so purposely, each word and syllable waits for the exact moment when it can make the most impact. Gorgeous and lush, a confessional timbre, a sadness that reaches through the bone, into the marrow. What is most interesting is that the music is moving like molasses, yet the vocal delivery is so urgent. I think it is this tension that makes this song so captivating. It is impossible to shake, once you've let it in. I reminds me of how I feel after a long boat ride. I am on solid ground again, but I still feel the sway and bob, and yes, that dizziness.
The musical sounds on this track do the same thing for me, rise and quell, and stay. I still hear it long after the headphones are off. It's as if the sounds are made of the natural world, it shares the same key, and you just have to listen and the music will be there. I imagine it welling up around me. This womb-like soundscape surrounding and protecting. I feel that I can be vulnerable inside this. I can show myself.
The music, the 30 words, and that voice all work together to simulate a trudging heaviness, a solitary din, and the ultimate walk towards forgiveness. The music is heavy, but there is also something else. An ethereal lightness – the way the voice shimmers as if rising from a wide canyon. I said earlier that I wondered if this was Chris' redemption song, but as I have arrived at this point in writing, and having invited this song fully in, I see that it is 'a' redemption song and unknowingly I have added it to my list of things that help when I blame myself for past choices. As a songwriter I believe it is often the process of writing the song that does the work, holds the healing property. Then you cast it out to the world and hope (or not) that it will do something similar for others. I don't imagine Chris listening to 'Hide' again and again as a mantra, but nonetheless, it is one for me.
Until next time,
Posted by jeff milo at 8:44 AM