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Nonconnah Songs for and About Ghosts

Because recording is my favorite thing to do, we basically never stop recording. Songs For And About Ghosts was intended to be released last spring, but COVID saw to delaying this. Thus, by now, these songs seem impossibly old and antiquated to me, more like heirlooms of a lost era than new music to be shared with the wider world. As this was all recorded before the tumult of 2020, there’s nothing that intentionally reflects such dread and uncertainty here. Listening back, I find it an unusually sunny set of songs by our standards. A few patches of darkness creep in, as they always do. It’s also a fairly abbreviated album for us, but I hope it hangs together nicely as an overview of where we were sonically and emotionally back in 2019. At the very least, I think it sounds the best of all our works. Much more care than ever before was put into production and mixing, and I hope that’s apparent. Though home recording and lo-fi elements will always be a part of our story as a band, we still continue to improve our craft and learn through practice, as any musical collective should with time.

I. To Follow Us Through Fields Of Lightning

Rather than overwhelm the listener with a massive track-list of short single pieces, we decided to collect ‘movements’ under four general titles for this album, an idea that admittedly was more the product of a love of Godspeed You! Black Emperor than any classical inspiration. The first movement here, ‘Churning Machines Of Savage Grace’, reflects a passion for Sacred Harp singing that’s cropped up in our work repeatedly; I always say that we’re very much a Southern band by nature, and I think it shows most clearly in the times our work invokes a certain pastoral Southern folk aura, as it does here. ‘Crown Of Entropy (For American Dread)’ very much came out of the tension of worry over the rising number of mass shootings in the US, a concern that seems a bit quaint in early 2021. Not much of a drummer myself, I decided to add some sampled swells of tympani to match the cresting waves of fuzz and tremolo-picking here, which gradually cedes to badly-degraded strumming and a faint radio signal of mysterious origins. ‘Block After Block In The Vast Wilds’ carries a sense of decay and collapse, as much of our work does, something barely held together and shadowed by half-forgotten technology as embodied by the samples of shortwave radio static. ‘Eerie Depopulation Of Mall Districts’ is a fragment of a much longer original piece, and uses as its base a sample from a video about training police forces how to deal with Satanic cults (the eighties’ era of ‘Satanic Panic’ is one of my many bottomless obsessions of interest, especially living as close as we do to West Memphis). Lastly, ‘The Heart’s Own Weary Emulsion’ is an almost-random collage juxtaposition of sampled tom drums, sweeping guitars, a field recording of Dollar General wind-chimes, and a fetal heartbeat from an ultrasound machine. It ends with a sample from shortwave cult leader Brother Stairs, warning as he often does about the coming ‘Last Days’, another of our recurring themes.

II. Changed In Autumn’s Feral Depths

A wall of processed guitars against crumbling tape static lifts towards some disintegrating tape-recorded piano notes and buried organ drones on ‘The Conjured And Levitating Wall’. Eventually a very soft trace of acoustic guitar picking creeps through the maelstrom. “(Name Redacted)” is ambience and vinyl crackle beneath a rant against ‘chemtrails’ found on YouTube, conspiracy paranoia being another theme that seems to come up a lot in our work. Also, there’s some gorgeous synth pulses from our super-talented friend Jenn Taiga. ‘Crossed-Out Seasons Of Memory’ is a taped acoustic guitar loop and tremolo waves of electric eventually overtaken by gorgeous violin/viola swells, courtesy of our friend Owen Pallett (The Arcade Fire, Final Fantasy, etc). We were incredibly fortunate to collaborate with these two fine folks on this album, which otherwise is absent of our usual collaboration with outside artists. The synth loops, more shortwave beeps and blips, and dark reversed guitar of “The Surrounding Neighborhoods Roar With Secrets” build into clattering overload before the melancholy drift of “A Last Amaranth Fading (Ruinous Elegies)” closes the piece with elegiac acoustic guitar, more radio signal elements, and a field recording of leaves drifting across an empty street (an idea I swiped, admittedly, from one of The Appleseed Cast’s Low Level Owl albums).

III. At The End Of Everything, At The Edge Of Nothing

“Mid-South Exclusion Zone”, the first movement here, features some very loud radio distortion and the soft strumming of a nylon-string acoustic that we recorded in a car driving through the industrial wastes of South Memphis. “Summer Sparkler Dream Cartridge” is layers of fuzz and swirling guitar leads that swell against a sample of homemade fireworks, which ebb into “All Will Be Forgiven, All Loss Will Drift Asunder”, with its sampled kick drum, odd wails from a numbers station, and gentle reverb-drenched guitar. There’s also a brief sample from some 90’s slow jam R&B classic that I’ve already forgotten the name of, as well as the artist responsible. A bit of feedback flows into “Invisible Mirror Spectrum Remnants”, which is just pitch-shifted fuzz guitar and a simple three-chord pattern oscillating down into the sampled “FEMA camp” conspiracy monologue and warbling cassette-recorded piano of “One Day This Town Will Be Circled In Red”. YouTube is a fine source of unbalanced people peculating on where all of this American dread may lead us, and it should be noted that we sample such rantings not as endorsement of these ideals, but out of a fascination with, and somewhat a respect for, the passion of such extremist belief in the face of uncertainty and strife. Recording on ‘obsolete’ technology such as cassette perhaps underlines that sense of time’s haunted passage. Whether the juxtaposition gives any deeper “meaning” to the music, or vice versa, isn’t something we deeply consider, nor the intuition-based “automatic writing” of our titling processes.

IV: The Willow And The Meeting Twain

Near my childhood home on the Outer Banks of North Carolina was a road called ‘Meeting Twain’, and the optimistic rebuke to the old saying of a twain that never meets has always stuck with me, as has the image of a weeping willow as an extension of sorrow and yearning (probably better exemplified by “Underneath The Weeping Willow”, a song by Grandaddy, one of our favorite bands and major influences). “In The Dim Dawn Of Broken Cities” begins with a sample from a tourist promotional video about Memphis, TN, the city where Nonconnah was first founded in 2016 and where we spend much of our time. A brief bit of reversed electric and scattered piano notes fades into the harmonic-guitar picking and synth-tinged leads of “A Worrisome Patch Of Wandering Nightfall”, one of a few examples of a song where we’ve sampled the sound of rainfall. “Second Snow Of The Year (January Particles)” seems very star-gazing to me, listening back now, a mellow twilight sprawling across the landscape as the album winds down. “Turning Bows And Arrows To Soot And Stone” is more layers of fuzzed-out guitar, a last burst of desperate energy for this set of songs before the field-recorded night sounds and relaxed ambient layers of “What We Held Together In The Cold And Gloom” closes out the album. It’s such a sense of receding distance and liminal spaces that I hope to convey most in our work. The faint vocal sample at the very end is taken from “The Lilac And The Apple Tree”, a lovely a cappella piece in ‘mountain ballad’ style by the late folksinger Kate Wolf.

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