Monday, April 17, 2017

Bathgate, Kubat, Milo... pt. 8 of Mended Vessel: "Crystal Screams"

This is the 8th letter traded between singer/songwriter Chris Bathgate and I, as we share our professional, tangential, conversational, contemplative thoughts, considerations, and appraisals of Mended Vessel, --an album released last autumn by Detroit-based singer/songwriter Audra Kubat. 

We're nearly done with Mended Vessel... But after that, we can look forward to new music from Mr. Bathgate: Dizzy Seas comes out on Quite Scientific, May 10. 

Mended Vessel on iTunes
Streaming on Spotify 

This song is called "Crystal Screams..."
And our letters got a bit intense...

Hello once again, Chris

April and October are magical months for me, and I know I'm not alone in that appraisal. It's the true dawn and true twilight periods of the year, whereas the green is coming back and the luminescence of our daytimes extends during this month, you can still see it battling against the hibernational browns and grays lingering from winter.... Same with October, as the crimson and yellows come in to splash against the summer's green - I'm just taken with how both of these months feel like two bottled seasons, tempesting-in-veritable-teacup of 30-ish days.

That poetic rambling has noting to do with Audra Kubat's Mended Vessel.... OR DOES IT? Even just to consider the artwork for this album, which we haven't quite done yet...the flipside, behind the tracklisting, is similar to the front cover, in that half-plate b/w tintype (by Allan Barnes), where the edges are a stark darkness, and Audra's aura has a supernatural luminescence about it. I imagine how, in Spring, we return to our gardens or we tend to a corner or facet of our abodes, and we repair them, or rehabilitate certain areas of our habitat from whatever damage was done over the unforgiving winter's whims....

And I think about Mending the proverbial Vessel... How this album is always halfway to healing, and how there's a sober assessment of what is and what is not, an actual cure to the ails and trevails of living, just living... So, that balance of wither-and-renewal, makes this feel like an excellent April/October record.

"The Bells" feels like morning, "Mountain Woman" feels like that perfect sun-soaked mid-morning period, "Loving Arms" and "Kalkaska" are also radiant, but I'm afraid that we may be entering one of the more (if not most) darker (darkest) songs on the album... This is the dark night of the singer's soul; the lyrics are not mincing anything, there is  no sugar coating, we're dodging moonlight in a run that feels desperate through a night where the color is fading... All of the intensities crash into us within one verse, the tables are turning, we are hit by a snowdrift, we are lost  in a desert, we are "on fire..."

.... I want to be most careful with this song, even more than the previous seven, so as not to misread it's signature expressions of distress, nor would I want to put a positive spin on it. There are so many things that likely keep you and I up at night, but the weight of that wondering of: "When will we be found...?" We can read that seven different ways, it would just depend on the mood you and I are in...We've talked a lot about how lyrics and mentioned a sort of searching, something that we are searching for...but this song seems to ask about who is out there, what is out there, searching for us.
I'd love to hear your interpretation of what a crystalline scream is!?

A couple of final things to mention - We were so excited about that pedal steel in "Kalkaska..." NOW...HOW haunting is it? I also like that there are moments, under her vocals, where you can almost barely hear the guitar - like it's a resting heart rate. And then we have that...mandolin...? that occassionally crashes in, along with that piano. It's another example of how the subtlety of arrangement can express an augmented emotion.

But... there is hope. I am twirled between woefulness and restored will, when she paints us a picture of those rivers rolling out to the sea... She's looking at the natural world and then applying her analysis of it to her own being... "I will survive..." too, just like the rivers rolling on...

Oh, last thing... Talk about those "Hey, hey, hey's..." The first few times it's just a percussive effect she can do to curtain the verses, but after the bridge, she throws emotion into it, like she's talking to herself, sternly, but with love... "Hey..." Like, "Hey...," calm down, settle, refocus. Hey. The way we all stop ourselves.

And I'll stop right there... I've prattled on too long to get to address how she mentions her parents often in these lyrics. I'd love for you to fill in that gap - as I realize, now, that it is rare that I get to hear songwriters talk about their family and personal history so openly.

Until next time my friend

Jeff, so nice to read this flowing letter

Yes, I’ve never quite been able to put that metaphoric comparison into words– these are the twilight / dawn periods of the year. These ephemeral transitions have a certain feel, like nothing else does.  Also, I’m struck by your thoughts of spring-time mending.  It’s certainly taking place on the mountain.  The garden fence has been bumped out and patched; The holes the wild boars have blasted through over the winter are now double lashed with sturdy stitching. It’s no shock to me that as we move through this album, we are using it to process and illuminate our landscapes and worldview.  Thankfully, we are in spring.  

I’m so glad you’ve mentioned the album cover, it's one I’ve thought about at great length.  This supernatural luminescence you describe in the front cover’s image is so striking.  Strange, this glow, I also attribute it to Audra, more so than some off camera soft box.  I’m getting this 1920’s Egyptian vibe coming across as well.  While it’s not specifically pointed to, I inject Cleopatra’s narrative, and perhaps that of a flapper as well. Both these rising out of the jeweled and beaded headdress adorning Audra. 
 It’s hard to know when an artist is evoking literal, or even classical symbolism in an image. Perhaps Audra is imbuing our thoughts with her own idiosyncratic myth. It paints Audra as royalty, in this beaded head-dress and sturdy neck piece.  Her hand is extended in both repose and strength. So many questions arise with this image, but without an artistic statement from Barnes or Audra, I’m left to just process the feelings that come indirectly with it. Those feelings mirror all your choice words of “wither-and-renewal”, and what is and is not.  

From “Crystal Screams” first seconds, Audra sets the stage for us.  The whining pedal steel, the aggressive and harrowing palm mute of the minor chords strum, point me to a wide-eyed vision of a stark reality, a hint of terror even, and the gut feelings of fight or flight. The delayed synth chiming in with her vocals seem to shake one’s shoulders.  The mandolin’s delicate and dramatic plinking, all seem to let Audra’s verse hang in the air, just before this first chorus drops into place, setting us running. Audra’s vocal delivery on Crystal Screams verses are super nuanced. Their hushed yet fast delivery adds a feeling of importance, of a secret we must know, now. 

In arrangement, this song’s rhythmic swing is super interesting.  Notice the kick placement switches between the verse and chorus.  The first verse being void of any percussion elements, drawing more on the guitar for its swing, then the steady pulsing of kick drum coming in on this first chorus.  The bass swinging into dog house rhythm to match, pushes us into country territory, giving the drama of “Crystal Screams" lyrics a theatrical push into a twirling, do i dare say vortex?  The double push that comes after this first chorus, the thump thump being highlighted under the verse’s rhythm push the tension and brooding air of this tune into overdrive. 

As you’ve pointed out, this songs is just as nuanced in instrumentation as pervious cry’s from Mended Vessel. This gentle double tracked vocal under the last lines of the chorus, almost unnoticeable on first listen, is the kind of detail that has kept me coming back this album. There are things you feel, but don’t know why, until you know the song by heart, by its shadows.   It’s not common to have these kind of background “noises” in music with such a country tinge. The swirling frequency sweep at 2:20 is brilliant. These, like the Audra Aura on the front of Mended Vessel, push me from classic folk tails into supernatural legend. 

Re: The Heys,

It’s so strange–these “Hey’s".  How do you place meaning on such a word, let alone repeated at times, six deep.  I found myself trying to track them, wondering how the lines before them change their meaning OR could change their meaning.  Much like first utterance, “Hey, Look at Me”, I feel like they snap me back from the spiraling imagery that she places before them, it re-grounds me.  Though, they also evoke this deep long folk tradition somehow, as though she is on a balance beam of folk legend and personal narrative.  I so associate this kind of delivery and use with cautionary tales, but here it's more difficult to place. In my opinion, that is because they are likely doing several things at once.  Strange and magic for such a open and sometimes amorphous word to be in such frequency, successfully. 

Wishing you well in your dawn season,

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