As the days begin their sunlight decline, the leaves have nearly all fallen, and the night time temperature is much less accommodating, I started my yearly migration to a much quieter music catalogue. I always look for sparse sounding records to reflect the current and coming time of year. Most recently I found Val Emmich and his barebones record Bulldozzzer.
I looked into Emmich's previous releases for some perspective and Bulldozzzer seems to be a large stylistic shift. He's stripped away the electrics, the steady pop drums and put a whispered voice in the forefront with a simple guitar to back it up. In the few tracks that do include a drum, a bass, an electrified melody, these elements are extremely muted. They sit in the background with no explanation for their presence.
The lyrics of Bulldozzzer are melancholic, introspective, and at times, angry. It takes courage for an artist to release material of such personal profoundness. Emmich's rough and hushed voice beautifully transports his words, in contrast to the clean acoustic guitar.
The images that came to my mind during the first listen of Bulldozzzer were the thin outlines of skeletal trees, and the soft lighting of an October afternoon. It left as quiet as it came like the shortening days.
I don't want to politicise my column but when you come across an album that was heavily inspired by the artist's experience in Time Square, Washington Square Park, and the now infamous Zuccotti Park during the Occupy Wall Street movement that was in a harrowing full swing this time last year, it's difficult not to think back and not protect your allegiances, and voice your own opinion. So, while I greatly enjoy Catherine Feeny's poetic retelling of the brutality the protestors faced and the dissection of corruption, I will do my best to keep unbiased in the reviewing of America.
The first thing I noticed about this record was the fragility of the sound. A plucked ukulele offers most of the lead melody, intertwined with other softly played strings. The percussion is almost tribal, but can be easily connected to the sound of protest drum circles given the context. It's an interesting dynamic that plays out here, a stark contrast of sounds split on two levels, with Catherine's soaring voice climbing up and down between them. It is the mix of instruments that sets the album apart from others that I've heard recently. The melodies are scattered, often a number of instruments each playing single note runs overlapping to complete very interesting chords with a string section in the background; somewhat in the spirit of one of my favorite bands, Horse Feathers.
All of the songs carry very apparent implications, but I found none to be as powerful as "United". Beginning with a sound bite of the Occupiers marching passed, banging on drums and garbage cans, tambourines chiming, the sound sweeps into the familiar fragility before building again to the sounds of protest chants. Ending America is Feeny's voice singing solo in a 60's style protest song about the wall dividing classes in America, the ongoing struggle between the "Haves" and "Have nots".
Catherine Feeny's America is a small but powerful gesture that will hopefully help shed light on the very real problems that the world's most powerful nation faces, but if politics aren't your thing, it is also a beautifully constructed album with flawless presentation.