A few years ago, while I was living in Colorado, trying to get my life together and learn how to write songs, I played one of my own, embarrassingly Iron And Wine indebted compositions for a friend of mine. When I reached the end of my overly earnest, ham fisted acoustic ballad, my friend looked me square and dead in the eyes and uttered three words that have haunted my waking thoughts ever since, "strumming is dead."
This viewpoint, while largely true, also suggests that music has to re-invent the wheel every time a musician picks up an instrument. It's sort of like saying "harmony is dead," or "rhythm is so passe." This way of listening to music is subliminally influenced by market forces, that package music as a commodity, like pork belly futures or a mutual fund. Novelty and innovation make for a great selling point, something to spell out in 32 point font, as a boldface headline for a press campaign. It's just not that representative of what it's actually like, listening to music, let alone being a musician. Every time, every song, is a blank canvas - it boils down to, "Do you have something to say?" and then, "is your execution eloquent?"
The Wake And The Waves That Followed is eloquent, a personal, homespun sentiment from Everett, Washington's Spencer Kelliher, who has been releasing music under the name Infinite Halves for the last 10 years. The fact alone that this folksy, acoustic document trickles out of Everett, alone, makes it worthy. I spent an afternoon in that hamlet, trying to catch a ride, and settling for a local bus. The place is like a whirlpool; while I was waiting for the bus, I asked a local woman for guidance on how to get out. She gave me advice on the local transportation and said, "Get out as quick as you can. I was only trying to catch a ride out of town, and that was twenty years ago." Everett is one of those small towns you see on a map, but don't think much of, let alone go there. Not exactly a cultural hot spot. Before the easy access and interconnectedness of the Internet, you never heard these stories, or knew what life was like, for the residents of these out of the way places.
All of these factors add up, to add a charm to The Wake And The Waves That Followed chunky acoustic rhythm guitar and Kelliher's reedy, plaintiff voices, that bears more than a passing similarity to The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle. Spencer Kelliher outlines his strumming with a fog of electric guitars, handclaps, and layered vocals, all of which illustrate that there is more going on with this record than meets the eye, and, like one of those small towns off the side of the highway, will totally pass you by, unless you choose to dig deeper.
The record details the near-collapse, and ultimate salvation, of a relationship, in vivid detail. The recording is rough and immediate, straight from Kelliher's living room to your headphones, capturing his heart with a cheap, distorted microphone. The music is largely unadorned, built around a bedrock of acoustic rhythm guitar, outlining the chord changes in a way that brings to mind Wreckless Eric's "Whole Wide World", as well as The Velvet Underground's Sterling Morrison's quicksilver, biting strum. Both of these artists represent rock 'n roll's transcendent joy and primal explosion, as well as the ability to transform the vocabulary of old fashioned pop and classic rock into an alchemy of electricity and spirit, redeeming the working class struggle, and turning it into fine art, as can be heard on the two covers on this record, "Take It To The Limit" by The Eagles, and "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" by Scottish cheeseters The Proclaimers, from the So I Married An Axe Murderer soundtrack. Neither one of these songs has been anywhere bordering on hip in a couple of decades, if they ever were, but Kelliher injects the heart and soul back into each.
Spencer Kelliher had a prolific and productive 2014, releasing another full length after The Wake And The Waves To Follow, which is both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing as it finds Kelliher brimming to overflow with ideas, solid songwriting, and authentic sentiment, but The Wake And The Waves To Follow suffers somewhat in comparison with its sibling, which is a more intricate and nuanced recording, with a lot more fingerpicking and post-production. On one hand, it seems that Kelliher had to get these stories off of his chest, as quickly as possible, and learned a ton along the way, but it comes off as a bit rough and hasty, in contrast.
But for those that still believe in the transformative power of rock and folk, and the independent spirit of home recording and self-released music, there is much joy to be had on this record. Infinite Halves are ones to watch, and to listen out for, to be sure.
Recommended for fans of The Mountain Goats, Bright Eyes, and Elliott Smith
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