The Rummage

Tag: Ireland

. issue XXIII : vi .

. artist : raising holy sparks .
. album : a mendicant hymnal .
. year : 2013 .
. label : deep water acres .
. grade : a .


By the loose standards, or paradigms, that seem to be developing, here’s a another one for the ‘goat-hair tent prog’ camp. Now, before I bury myself, let’s stop there briefly. That appellation came by way of a serious passenger, and though it might seem flippant at first, it cuts to the heart of the matter. Underneath the obvious sense of humor —and wink— to it, there’s a real honing in on what makes albums like Raising Holy Sparks’ A Mendicant Hymnal a shimmering example. What it really means, for pilgrims like Raising Holy Sparks and outfits like Mountains, Anvil Salute, Date Palms, and label-mates Evening Fires … is that there are some serious, and traditional, knots in the tree rings … even when the songs seem to be effortlessly eschewing conventional form as much as expectation. There’s a decidedly rural (for lack of a better word and vocabulary) spine running through them, intertwining the humanist and the spiritual. Whether it’s the instrumentation, folk foundations and mutations, intent, execution or simply the bones of the song, there’s a definite leaning towards embers smoldering or raging flames. Not that things aren’t susceptible to blazes at any given moment (check the slow ride out on “Within the Painted Desert”), but if there are you can be sure it will be accompanied with an intoxicating smoke that makes you breathe even deeper rather than choking. And as your lungs expand, so do the vistas that the music conjures up, dwarfed only by the panoramas blossoming between your ears. Open your ears and watch the” Meteors Over the Mesa” where those two environments coexist, with yourself right smack dab in the middle of the overlap with a full 360° view. It’s all big music, even in the quietest of moments, yet full of space. Space you can breathe in, either here on grounded Mother Earth or up there where suspension replaces oxygen. That right there is a shared perspective, a perspective that can look up, deeply, and move into it without forgetting the view below of a starry night. Or the wood for the trees if the band is so inclined. Does this mean they sound alike, a singular soundtrack to a transcendental Groundhog Day? Hell no. Not anymore than anything else we cram into a requisite pigeonhole. It’s a vibe that is both planetary and intimate, and one with endless tributaries, as well as confluences (as luck would have it, that’s a position you can take “At The Confluence Of The Potomac & Shenandoah”). Though not without willing and substantial revisits on our part, ones that breeze through the doldrums easily, morphing and assimilating themselves as they make successive grasps to maintain motion without sacrificing drift.

The musicians have this to say: “Inspired by 7000 miles of travel across 30 states, A Mendicant Hymnal draws on the vast & ever-changing American landscape, from the mountains & deserts of the West through the empty plains & onto the endless forests of the East. The first in a continuing series, trying to get, in the words of Edward Abbey, ‘close to the West of my deepest imaginings, the place where the tangible & the mythical became the same.’”

Raising Holy Sparks is, fundamentally, David Colohan of United Bible Studies and Agitated Radio Pilot. In every way, A Mendicant Hymnal comes across as a deeply personal album, even a journey. And in no way does that make it insular or impenetrable to passers-by. Colohan’s “epic slow-motion electro-acoustic soundscapes” not only envelop, they embrace. Any feelings of mournfulness or longing that might arise through these deep devotional drones quickly dissipate through a sifter that scatters stars and spirits in equal measure. By the time the waters of the Potomac and the Shenandoah have been crossed, the enigmatic “Plains of Kansas” or “A Stretch of Haunted Road” walked, or the wounds licked, swaddled and healed in “Shadow City, Missouri,” A Mendicant Hymnal —for intimate it is— simply doesn’t belong to Raising Holy Sparks anymore. Whatever journey it takes you on, it’s yours as much as it is Colohan’s. The universality of it doesn’t just allow that, it encourages it. Contemplative, spiritual, and ‘holy’ transcendent, A Mendicant Hymnal is far richer than its order’s subscribers claim to be. Whatever amount you put into their hands or collection plate is returned tenfold, at the very least. Here’s to sharing the wealth.

by Mr. Atavist


. issue V : iii .

. artist : joe heaney (seosamh Ó hÉanaí) .
. album : the road from connemara .
. year : 2000 .
. label : topic .
. grade : a plus .


Sean-nós, or ‘old way’ traditional Gaeilge singing, is a disposition to song-crafting, oral history, and performance. In the traditional Gaelic homestead, songs were told, like stories, in intimate, dreary, vigorous settings where contextualization and connection to the human situation was a crucial source of entertainment and worldview. In traditional sean-nós, performers are not asked to ‘sing’ but to ‘say’ a song. It is all in the telling and the song itself; the song is everything, and the singer minimizes himself by pulling down his cap, turning away, covering his face, or standing in a dark corner. Sean-nós is a griot-esque tradition of folk histories, and the singer’s job is to be a sensitive, heartfelt curator, finding the sincerest expression and the most responsive telling for the song and then standing it alone. The lyricism and its meter, the narrative syntax and presentation and experience itself, are of central importance.

From 1745 until the mid-1800’s, instruments were banned throughout Ireland during a religious era of zealous intolerance; adapting, people made puirt-à-beul, or ‘mouth music’ to accompany dancers. (Note that the tremulous nasality of the uilleann pipes and the vocal pipes seem to be parallel presentations.) Again, lilting ‘mouth music’ does not quite have rhythm, but instead what Heaney called “the pulse.” There is no attempt to conceal the human origin of the sound; breaths are not merely tolerated but incorporated (as with throat singing and all sorts of indigenous musical traditions).

Heaney often spoke about beats as something inorganic and imposed on songs with condescension and concern; in sean-nós, the metrical life of a song is manifested in the “pulse” a singer gives breath to, so while it is true to say that sean-nós is a capella, it is apter to say that it is unaccompanied, unadorned in its honest human origin.

A two-disc recording of sean-nós master Joe Heaney performing for ethnomusicologists, The Road from Connemara is staidly moving, fragile and robust, spirited and stern, frugal and avid. Diligent, weathered, resolute, even obdurate, Heaney was the aesthetic of Western Ireland incarnate, hewn, with a voice of maritime bleakness, his face windward plains of stone, and a thin, tough, reedy frame. The folk circuit of the 50’s and 60’s idolized Heaney — and no less scholars — yet for his subtle pacing and unmatched sensitivity, Heaney was merely a vessel for his songs. The Road from Connemara is beautiful and devastating. It’s not just the pulse of songs and small snippets of folklore and anecdotes that Heaney gives breath to — it’s the last unadulterated, determined gasp of traditional Connemaran culture.

by Brittany Tracy

. issue II : ii .

. artist : twinkranes .
. album : spektrumtheatresnakes .
. year : 2009 .
. label : finders keepers .
. grade : a .

Twinkranes’ Spektrumtheatresnakes (2009) enthralls the careful and intent listener. At the most casual level, the release is enjoyable background music and compositionally solid. But going deeper with the seven tracks will open a journey in sound that will rock your face off. You can feel the krautrock elements and even some dark-wave approaches, but Spektrumtheatresnakes works with eminent textures: blendings with fine keyboard tapestries; trancelike, tightly off-kilter rhythms; bass-guitar rumblings; and clever, memorable vocals. It is a lesson in restraint, subtlety, and release.

The opening instrumental track, “High Tekk Train Wreck,” creates the impression of a car chase in which you finally outwit your pursuer under a railroad bridge at top speed. “Train Wreck” is a good album-opener, initiating the eardrums to Twinkranes’ ethereal feel. The subsequent tracks will jump-start the woofers, spin off into a totally unique direction, and then fade into the record, leaving you in Spektrumtheatresnakes’ rhythmic sunset.

“They rightly proclaim themselves as machine-driven psychedelia, and this Dublin trio lays it down in their own Frankenstein-monster fashion, with a nod to the early 70’s chug-alongs like Neu or even Harmonia at their most focused. Spektrumtheatresnakes is a beast that puts a fresh face on this genre and properly melts yours.

The last two songs close the album as a sort of suite. “Put Up A Light” reaches the peak of density: with a two-minute wall of well-timed dizzying thickness that hurls you to the edge of the precipice, hangs you over the edge, and pulls you back just before your heart drops in the sonic chasm. Next, “Spores” leads you down a cryptically-worded path; reminiscent of Lovecraft or of Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” it would be the perfect soundtrack for your next midnight trip to the graveyard.

A listener willing to go the distance with this band will be transported to a rewarding plane of subtle textures that become more interesting with repeated plays. Further, engrossed listening will bring the realization that these gents aren’t just rock musicians but music craftsmen. Every time I go away from this and come back, I learn more, appreciate more, and then, next thing you know, I’ve played it three times in a row…again.

by Phil D