Written by Greg Schwan
Jakob Battick & Tongue Depressor – Raise the Dead
> Experimental drone
> PA/CT, US
> Releasing October 26
> Stoned to Death
In music, we too infrequently ask the question of where. Where does this music put me, as a listener? Where is the scene in which I find myself as I experience it, if any? In describing Raise the Dead, Philadelphian solo artist Jakob Battick and Connecticut drone duo Tongue Depressor state that, “These are songs of…the possibility of a thousand other lifetimes just beyond the veil”. Fair enough—color me intrigued. But as I bring my own self and frame of reference to bear on Raise the Dead’s 40 minutes of narrated, microtonal drone, give it repeat listens, and wrestle with the lyrics, I foremost see a place in this work. Note that this is essential to the questions of who I was, am, and will be. These questions intermingle in unpredictable ways, much like the instrumentation itself, which in the last analysis is as challenging as it is rewarding.
Musically, opener (of two approximately 20-minute compositions) “Reek of Resurrection” conjures Ulver’s much, much-overlooked (or perhaps forgotten) Teachings in Silence, most specifically the opening of “Not Saved”. But whereas Ulver’s piece goes on to employ trip-hop loops, “Reek of Resurrection” persists absent percussion—enveloping and eerie textures simply don’t release. I try to latch onto what I think I’m hearing—pipe organ, pedal steel, bowed cymbals, tubular bells…where does one begin and another end? It’s hard to tell, but thankfully it doesn’t matter because above all, I clearly see and imagine myself in a great cathedral. Whatever instrumentation, arrangement, and other compositional details got me here are incidental to a degree. I’m in the pew. Sure enough, lyrical references to ash, bells, “holy wine”, a halo—something spiritual, religiosity.
What’s fascinating is that the companion track, “Under the Wormwood Star”, takes us out of that holy place to somewhere completely different—a still vista not unlike one could find in the American Southwest. One pictures the colors of sundown, and sure enough the lyrics again point this direction as they reference the “desert floor”, the sky “glittering tangerine”. To get there, the track first takes us through passages not unlike some of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s greatest early moments (as heard on “Blaise Bailey Finnegan III” from Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada). And while this build up will subside for a spell, the swirl will return as if part of a cycle. Indeed, a resurrection.
As this release is such a tense affair—seemingly unwilling to let us feel any respite—what is it about these places that would musically color them so? Why microtones? Can we simply not fully realize ourselves in these places? Are they lost to memory? Maybe these places are indeed beyond the veil. But still, they feel like mine. But it’s important to note that I’m not on this journey alone. Jacob Battick guides me, my Virgil on this path “beyond the veil”: to the cathedral, to the red rocks of the American Southwest. Theirs is a voice that feels neither spoken, nor sung, a narration with glimmers of musicality but also marked by a verbal stoicism and restraint that feels more like the recitation of a poem.
All in all, this is a thing to be experienced. Sleep to it. Spin it in your most contemplative moments. Not unlike the experience of a bleak novel, be guided.
- The album was mastered by none other than James Plotkin (who I mostly associate with OLD, though that is the tip of the iceberg). Predictably, it sounds quite good.
- Henry Birdsey, one of Tongue Depressor‘s two members along with Zach Rowden, sure does have some interesting collaborations and partnerships out there outside of this project—not the least of which is Dawn Upshaw, the soprano I know best from her phenomenal performance on Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3.
- It’s not lost on me that this review is for a metal site. But for me drone has always felt, if not quite adjacent, to at least be a friend of metal.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Raise the Dead is no elementary listen, but it’s a transportive one. Come prepared to be challenged, but be ready to experience something extremely special, too. Jakob Battick & Tongue Depressor‘s opus is well worth your time and attention.