(Whited Sepulchre, 2017)
I immediately lost sense of where I was.
I drifted through mountains, looked down and saw trees and cities, people in cars, and snow. I knew I had only seen this terrain in dreams, and the fact that I was seeing it again, from such a height, suggested that I wasn’t awake this time either. I closed my eyes against the cold wind, opened them in an abandoned warehouse, cement floor stretching a hundred feet in each direction. At one far corner of where I stood at the center of the room was a woman with a guitar and a lone amplifier. A man fiddled with a sparse drum kit. She looked at me and raised her hand as if to play, and I closed my eyes again, opening them only to find myself elsewhere. The guitar, though, sounded. I stood on an empty back street, not quite an alley, a long-unused tire shop at one corner, among seemingly deserted and decrepit row houses. I recognized that music – it reminded me of something, but I couldn’t grasp it – the memory was too far away, but it echoed in my mind, just out of reach of conscious thought. I began to walk, and the guitar was joined by the drum kit, reverently providing a rhythm for the music. Against a fence, a tattered bedspring edged, long forgotten, torn, once offering support for a mattress, a person who slept there, safe in the knowledge that the night would wrap its arms around them. Where were they now? Had they been displaced from their home? Had they simply up and left, forsaking belongings for ease of travel? Or had something happened to them? I was overcome with a sense of loss, of hopes interrupted with the cruel intrusion of modern life. It was then that I was lifted by an unknowable force, back into the clouds, above the city, the guitar, the voice, at times the drums, mourning in my ears, whispering hymns of intercession for the world I had just left, for the city that was crumbling. I felt every bruise, every blow of the struggle occurring below, where humanity, poised on the brink, struggled to make it through an untenable reality. My gaze moved skyward, and I felt suddenly unshackled – not unusual considering I was hovering high above the earth. I felt triumphant, as if a rush of adrenaline had just been released, and there was suddenly something to live for beyond the base scraping of existence. It was the music, I understood, that propelled my consciousness in its current direction. That voice, those guitar tones, everything felt like a blanket of clouds that wrapped tight and secure.
I awoke renewed. I realized I had fallen asleep with Midwife’s Like Author, Like Daughter spinning on the turntable. It was perfect – Madeline Johnston’s compositions, like a heavenly mix between Low and Grouper (or maybe Johnston’s ambient guise Sister Grotto), were moving and, in the end, joyous. The songs illuminated trails ending in self-actualization. She and Tucker Theodore, her partner in performance and production for the record, had fully encapsulated what it feels like to leave something behind, but knowing that there’s hope in the future to embrace. There’s beauty in disintegration and reconstruction. I’ll leave you with “Name” – good luck trying not to feel feelings as you take it in.