Apparently the world is divided, I know, no great shock. Thankfully this is a schism that hopefully won’t end in senseless violence, although it does highlight how we respond to music, and art generally, in very different ways. I’m talking about shivers – the not unpleasant sensation of feeling your spine gently tingle when exposed to particular musical stimuli. You either know exactly what I mean or are feeling locked out of the club right now. For me, I used to judge the quality of a gig based on whether it produced at least one shiver. Anyway, hold that thought – we’ll come back to it.
My ears really pricked up when the opening notes of I Hear You Drowning But I’m Tied made their low key way into my world, fading in gradually. The mournful intro is a near musique concrete creation formed from backward tape effects and hazy static like an out of tune radio, almost as lonely a sound as a train passing in the depths of a long dark night. There’s a feeling of frustrated communication, messages not getting through, whether to yourself or others, it doesn’t matter. And then I look at that title again, the clues are in plain sight – paralysis in the face of ongoing life changing events, the actual specifics denied to us.
Acoustic guitar drives and anchors, cold and lonely stars are twinkling in a lovely keyboard motif. Then the song kicks in fully and my spine tingles in the way that’s so hard to explain to anyone who doesn’t know what the hell you’re talking about, it’s a spectral kind of beauty, maybe that’s what does it? Subtle vocal manipulations add mystery to an arrangement based on layers of intrigue, whispered asides, disembodied phrases and hidden depths. Ghostly echoes carry a feeling of hushed anxiety and even potential threat:
‘Stop finding faults in everyone you fear’
There’s a sense of eavesdropping on private dramas or maybe we’re simply hearing home truths?
The tension beneath the surface only fully reveals itself on the third or fourth listen, but as I found myself unthinkingly pressing replay, that shouldn’t be a problem.
It was mildly shocking to find that Letting Up Despite Great Faults (taken from a Blonde Redhead lyric, originally from L.A but now based in Austin, Texas) have been active since 2006, so some catching up is clearly needed. If you need reference points, I guess Death Cab for Cutie, New Order and Elliot Smith would set you on your way, but that only tells a tiny fragment of the story.
It feels like I Hear You Drowning matters, it’s emphatically not just music by the yard (for metric readers: a measurement of length rather than a place where you keep your dog) but was made because it needed to be made. I could comfortably spend a day with this song and not get bored, add in a near guaranteed shiver down the spine for the lucky few and we’re really talking. Is that high enough a recommendation for you? It should be.