Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Chris Bathgate's Dizzy Seas: Track-by-Track Reviews with Letters from Audra Kubat

Continuing an epistolary review of Chris Bathgate's Dizzy Seas -which came out May 19th on Quite Scientific Records. 

The esteemed Detroit-based singer/songwriter Audra Kubat and I are exchanging a new letter each week, discussing one track at a time. 

This song is called "O(h)m"

Hello again Audra

Your last letter about the song "Water" really resonated with me, specifically the idea of the song having already existed, as if a trail we parachuted down upon and started walking without realizing how much may lay behind us--we just START. Water would be the same, of course; an obvious metaphor for being dropped into something.

It's been a beautiful Sunday, as I write this to you. The skies have been a carousel of thick clouds with blips of blue, and rain has come and gone, only sporadically ceding some sunlight. I'm listening to "O(h)m," an absolutely radiant song that brightens this nicely gloomy day.

This is the song where we'll begin what I'm sure will be a series of returning references to Chris' wordless vocal intonation. But before I get into the chorus I want to glide my way, observantly, through this song. It's opening 10 seconds are a fanfare of acoustic guitar, a rolling little riff that repeats and quietly sort of announces the song's forthcoming arrival. By arrival, I mean the effluence of sound that fills the ears when those drums and that violin absolutely swell into the soundscape with such a sweetness and an eagerness. A bass drum's kick, a tambourine, and a violin's trilling see-saw sounding like the melodic embodiment of restorative joy.

And just as we're ready to start clapping along, he pulls everything back and lets that chorus do its percussive, loop-de-loop magic. "The day has come to cast a blow I can't recover from..." It's so interesting to me that this line, if you read the lyric from the liner note, is absolutely devastating, but he rattles it off with a bit of coyness, a sort of tumbling down melodic phrase that seems cadenced in such a way as its almost in a hurry to get to the true moment of emotion: "Oh-oo-Oh-oo-Oh-oo-Oh-OHM!"

I think this song is demonstrating how much emotion can be communicated without an actual word from our lexicon. Instead, he's using his voice, an instrument, to say something without saying anything. I know that sounds so abstruse and maybe cryptic, but I think what brings me so much happiness from this song is that his expression, his Ohms, his mantra-like Ohms....are not cryptic at all. Sort of as if it were a dream, I walk away from the song having intoned, or at least thinking I've intoned, exactly what he's talking about.

That's something I always consider. The expression...be it concrete, or abstract, it can always be an emotion. But it might not need a word. It could be a moan, a mantra, a growl even...

Something else that is thought-provoking is that this song feels more like three stanzas, rather than a traditional song, with chorus & bridge, etc... It feels like it comes to a conclusion at the exact minute mark....and then again just after the second minute, only to come back for 50 more seconds of repeating the initial theme. It feels like three big breaths, three big deep sighs, in that way.... Meditative!

How did this song affect you?




I was still submerged in the 'Water', and found it hard to disconnect. It still rings in my ears, but I move forward and let myself fall into 'O(h)m'.

I immediately pull up my skirt and bare my feet as this second track begins. I am transported a few miles off the main road, whittling my way down a handful of hairpin turns, narrowed down to only red dirt and a welcoming farm house. A porch, wide wooden planks, and one of those screen doors that welcome those of pure heart, and scare those that mean to harm.

The lone guitar introduces a path into the mountains and then the folks join in. Everyone feels welcome. The smack of percussion, the violins, the bass - simple, timeless, resonate, and alive. Then Chris sings. His voice is pure, but lyrically there isn't a simple message here. I am still trying to understand, and I want to. I wonder if this is to be understood. He wears a coat that he, himself can't fathom. He can't recover from the blow, so that he can only articulate the chorus of this song in 'non-words'. This space, this non-literary space that he carves out - is it our space too? I wonder what it is for him. Then there is this -  'my tongue is caught deep in the belly of a thought untraveled' and I think, where is that? My tongue, that which translates, is stuck in the center of a thought that is currently unable to move. Then, suddenly, I feel that chorus, and think, "Is this the sound you make, when words just aren't enough?" Maybe.

You pointed out the form of this song. I agree there seems to be three sections. The last one is most interesting to me. There is that survival note; a note that sustains throughout the rest of the song. It starts at the beginning of the third movement and does not falter. All the while, chords change, drums bark out points of interest, guitars hits selectively, and yet that note persists. It is not until the very end that it finally submits to silence, fighting hard as it edges slightly sharp.

This song began as a traditional floor-stomping porch jamboree, but quickly slipped into that familiar moment when words just won't do. Which now suddenly seems right. These musical sounds speak for themselves, they have a built-in feel like the leathery skin of working hands or the buttery afternoon sun on a cat, spread out on the front stoop.

Not sure what this all means, but it's what this song feels like to me.

Until next time,


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