October 11, 2011
By Andrew Wilhelm (Denver)
The barriers to making a living off of music are higher than they’ve ever been. Making the actual music? Those gates aren’t as daunting as they once were. Most chatter of this nature focuses on amateurism, but something not discussed as much is the fact that musicians do not have to be on the same continent to record music. We’ve already seen this with grind unit Gridlink, whose members hail from the United States and Japan, but now we’re going to turn to another example that is quite the opposite from Gridlink’s 12-minute mini-masterpieces.
Drone/ambient duo Heinali and Matt Finney make sounds far apart from each other — she hails from Ukraine and handles the music, while he resides in Alabama and focuses on the words. While only having collaborated since 2009, they are certainly prolific, having released several albums digitally, as well as brooding covers of Radiohead‘s “Creep,” The Cure‘s “Plainsong,” and, most recently, Nirvana‘s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Their latest, Ain’t No Night, out now through Paradigms Recordings, both refines and expands upon their sound.
The distance between the two lends to a heavy sense of isolation in the music. One can sense this before you even press play – the sepia-toned cover is centered on a mostly consumed, lonely glass of whiskey (I’m going to assume it’s whiskey, given Finney’s origins). Night is not for breaking out that Macallan to celebrate a job promotion, it’s what you listen to when mentally talking yourself out of breaking a bottle of Macallan over your boss’ head. “Do you see yourself as a failure, drowning in your own bullshit,” Finney asks the listener on “Tinderbox” — this is exactly the experience. For the duration of the record, he’s making the listener look into a cracked mirror, a mirror that might provide a more accurate — if less pretty — depiction of one’s self.
Heinali uses a combination of musical techniques to drive melancholy. “In All Directions” and the title track start with a little bit of scratchiness found when unearthing archived and presumably forgotten media, or, in this case, memories best not remembered frequently. Her guitar work recalls the more somber moments of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mogwai, when triumph gave way to reflection. Heinali manipulates these guitar surges to make you think there’s a way out, but the duo smacks you back down to Earth with more depression. All the songs end not with a bang, but with a drawl of ambient drift that crawls toward silence. Heinali also knows that minor key pianos are a fail-proof way to evoke sadness, as evidenced in “Directions” and “Hallelujah.” The piano in “Directions” is rickety and slightly out of tune, mimicking the loneliness present in the album. Too much? Put the pills away, it’s only 36 minutes long.
Back when I was a hack at The Daily Texan (and not a hack here), I reviewed Mouth of the Architect‘s record Quietly, and while I wasn’t impressed with the record as a whole, it did have hints of a “small town” aesthetic that I thought were interesting and wanted the band to expand upon. Heinali and Matt Finney took up that challenge for them on the Night‘s title track. This is most obviously carried out through the use of twangy guitar that accompanies most of Finney’s verses, but also in what Finney is saying as well. It’s a homecoming, but like Bret Easton Ellis’ seminal novel Less Than Zero, it’s really a homecoming that reveals the untreated, almost cancerous fungal underside. Finney’s understated delivery makes a line like “Fucking waitresses and getting blowjobs in the parking lot” turn from a teenage dream to an adult nightmare. Sounds like a grand old time, but not if that’s all you aspire to live by. Bleakness gives way to more bleakness, as Finney continues on: “You spend a week at your father’s house right before he dies, but he doesn’t have any wisdom to pass on.” Finney inverts the very purpose of a father: the mental death happened long before the body failed. Is that what someone should want to remember their father by? Throughout the entire record, that feeling of finding out what you’ve known isn’t true — and the social and emotional estrangements that result from such revelations — persists. Finney commandeers that feeling politically on “Tinderbox,” where he exclaims, “Since birth, I was told this was democracy, but I was never taught about the Sand Creek Massacre in school.” You can read about the Sand Creek Massacre here, but Finney is right in that it has been brushed under our collective rug, as has a great deal of Native American suffering. When no one remembers you, it fucks you up.
Nobody likes to be sad, but we have to confront the unpleasantness of life so that we can enrich our own. Living in a bubble of self-esteem pumped like insulin does not prepare you for the real world and how messy it can be. Maybe that’s why the most down-trodden music is often the most moving, the most resonant. Night is another great of example of that principle.
“Ain’t No Night”