Monday, June 5, 2017

Letters with Audra Kubat about Chris Bathgate's 'Dizzy Seas' - pt 3 - "Come To The Sea"

Continuing a series of letters between myself and Detroit-based singer/songwriter Audra Kubat. 

This is an epistolary review of Chris Bathgate's latest album, Dizzy Seas (out on Quite Scientific Records).

This is part 3...
This track is called "Come To The Sea"

Dear Audra

What a beautiful picture you've painted with that last letter. I am enjoying witnessing you, just as Chris had done beforehand with his writings about your record, discover that the form of review-writing can be as artful as a piece of music. Well, damn close to being AS artful...

I want to just repeat the last sentence of your review for Dizzy Seas' second track, which was "O(h)m" -  "Not sure what this all means, but it's what this song feels like to me...."

Now, Chris and I spent a lot of time remarking upon the power of your voice, whether it be subtle or forceful. I anticipate a recurring theme that you and I will return to in this track, "Come To The Sea," (and future tracks as well), will be this consideration of emotion. And, very specifically straying from categorizing the emotion, or an emotion, or whatever emotion, that a song like this may be inching towards instilling in us... I don't think Chris is here to dislodge a definitive emotion from us.

"See what it feels like / See what it feels like in time..." The lyrics are so simple, but we have to note what Chris is doing with his voice. The way he stretches out " time," at the close of that verse, with such a vibratto to his voice, and nearly halting. This is the kind of song I would be listening to in my younger days, when I had more free time, for all night road trips around the state. This is the song that hits at sunrise, when I find a scenic view, for the horizon's orange glow that spills over invariably Lake Superior or Huron, when the world hasn't awoken yet and only birds and cicadas are keeping me company. There's a chill in the air, but only a slight chill...... Which leads me into the ambient elements of this song....

I talked to Chris recently and mentioned that even though this record doesn't "sound like" folk music, per se, he's still categorized as a "folk singer" by most accounts; or, at least, he acknowledges, that that is where his roots are... Can we wade into this song with a fresh definition of "folk" music and see it as, above anything, a pure, poignant, and empathetic portrayal of the human experience? Of human emotion? I feel like this is the best example of an ambient folk record, something not purely acoustic and gracefully indulgent of reverb, echo, and fogs of distortion. I love it when artists can find this way in a studio to make these synthetic sounds strangely redolent of the organic thrum of an imagined wilderness

Deep breath.

This is also, as the simple looping phrases and molasses-sludge tempo would suggest, one of the heavier tracks we'll hear. "Trapped in a dark a hard-luck sigh." I feel a real ebb and flow in this song. There are subtle refrains that emit positivity, but you have to listen close, or.... you have to feel close, open yourself up to them, to let them bring you back up. He admits that he shines, he admits that his surroundings shine, and that, maybe at the end of it all, "we're fine..."


I said a lot about those droney ambient curtains that fill out the song, but didn't get too much into his guitar work... Let me know what you think, Audra

-til next time


Dear Jeff,

I will start where you left off – the guitar. The opening chords roll and bob like waves. An ascending strum that breaks into a few single picked notes, leaving a hint of space at the end of each phrase - breathing in...breathing out. That one bass note that sneaks in, almost a hint of a whale's song.

Then the opening word – trapped. Which works in contradiction to the music, I think. The sound of the guitar and the vastness of the spaces in between, the watery electric and the beat on the drum as if it's under the surface. The entrance of airy synths, which in my imagination linger and sway just above the water-line, play with the light and tease out textures.

I love those splashes of notes that sing the sounds of rewinding tape and lace the end of this sparse yet lush track. The music here is still so hopeful...there is an uplifting moment every few bars that shines if you follow it. You hear it too, Jeff - ' subtle refrains that emit positivity', but like you said, you have to listen for it.

The seaside is the place where worlds collide. The place where time shows itself clearly. As each wave meets the shore, we see a moment in that place, that very edge of the waters reach, and the arms pull the sands loose and mix, separate and then retreat; start the journey back. Maybe to become a raindrop or to most rest for a split second at the very depth of the ocean floor.

Coming back to the first word of this song – 'trapped'. It is by the water that one can feel their own life is small, maybe trapped inside themselves as opposed to the sublime view of the unending expanse interrupted only by that of the horizon- an illusion of a meeting. Wondering if this song is an exercise in letting go of control? I am imagining being 'trapped in a hard tusk time'. The hard tusk of time, what would that look/feel like? A sharp tooth that snags you as you try to live outside of times constraints?The sea is the place I go to to lose myself, to find myself, and to laugh at myself. To see that I am just a tiny heart, beating away, that my joys and my lows are mine and I am small.

Chris is a folk singer because he is singing about the human condition. It doesn't sway me as he added non-traditional sounds (and I agree with you, they become more in line with the work as you listen and seem to evoke the sounds of nature – whales, water droplets, waves hitting against stone cliffs).
This song invites me to surrender my expectations and just let my ears open...that feeling when you listen a little more than normal and you can almost hear your ears stretching.

Until next time,
-- Audra

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