Hushed, impressionistic storytelling
Brandon De La Cruz sings with a hushed authority, his voice cracking against the muted beauty of this simple-seeming song. A two-line verse is answered by a two-line chorus, the former resolving the latter with matter-of-fact grace. Whatever story is being told here is being told obliquely, like a camera focusing only on discreet details, with no establishing shot.
We can, however, flesh out the story via the title: in mythology, Salmacis was a nymph who lusted after Hermaphroditus, the child of Hermes and Aphrodite. When he rejected her and went to bathe in her pool, she sprang upon him; when he still resisted, she prayed to the gods that the two of them should be always together. The gods, in classic “be careful what you wish for” manner, granted her her desire, and they were merged into one body. (Thus, clearly, the etymology of the English word “hermaphrodite.”)
This background renders De La Cruz’s impressionist account evocative in the extreme. We get body words–hands and arms and lips and legs–and, in the repeated chorus, words of union (collide, link up, entwined, seam). Consciously or not this song is in every possible way the antithesis of the prog-rock deep cut “The Fountain of Salmacis,” from the 1972 Genesis album Nursery Crime: concise versus expansive, humble versus baroque, quiet versus clamorous. Nothing at all against Genesis; let’s just say this goes in another direction.
“Salmacis” is one of eight tracks on the album Visions of Ovid, being released this week. With a long-standing interest in mythology, De La Cruz this time has fashioned an entire album riffing on ancient stories. Based in Portland, De La Cruz has been more or less stuck in New Zealand for a year, having chosen an unfortunate time to visit friends early in 2020. (But there are probably worse places to be stuck!) He has been previously featured on Fingertips both in 2011 and in 2013. MP3 via the artist.
Introspective and artfully composed, with a chorus both subtle and majestic.
Introspective and artfully composed, “The Lake” is I guess pretty much the opposite of a headbanger, and seems a perfect rejoinder to the previous song, for those who listen to each week’s update as a three-song set (which in fact I recommend!).
This is one of those songs with mysterious power—a power based on small rather than large gestures. Built on a sparse, pulse-like riff (initially played on acoustic guitar, later on keyboard), the delicate verse is augmented by complex vocal countermelodies and deft orchestration. Clare Manchon sings with a rounded, whispery tone, spiced with old-fashioned flutters and an unplaceable almost-accent. She tells a tale of inscrutable departure, vaguely narrated but sharply observed. The chorus nails it all together, at once majestic and subtle, a grand hook built out of nearly nothing: a repeating phrase, different lyrically at the beginning of each line, sung in a lazy, irregular, repeating triplet pattern. It’s intoxicating stuff, especially the second time through (beginning at 2:35), when the chorus extends and extends, the musical repetition highlighting the bottled-up emotion of the melancholy circumstance.
Clare and the Reasons is a Brooklyn-based band led by Clare and Olivier Manchon. Clare is the daughter of veteran musician Geoff Muldaur and sister of singer/songwriter Jenni Muldaur. The band, a shape-shifting ensemble, was previously featured here in 2007. “The Lake” is from the third C&TR album, KR-51, to be released next month on Frog Stand Records. The album was recorded after an eight-month stay in Berlin, much of which time was apparently spent on moped—specifically on a 1968 Schwalbe model KR-51. Thus the name.
“Petal Song” – Spider
This may not sound at first like a song that’s going to kick out with a minute-long Pink Floydian guitar solo, but how often, actually, are things exactly what they seem? (cf. “Things are not as they seem. Nor are they otherwise,” as per the Buddha.)
“Petal Song” may well begin quietly but there’s something simmering from the outset–most notably Jane Herships (aka Spider) herself. Some vocalists with quavering voices sing like it’s all they can do to make an audible sound, the quavering in this case being a sign of near exhaustion. The quaver in Herships’ voice, by contrast, has the feeling of someone holding back something mighty. She shakes from the effort of keeping contained. In that context, the electric outburst at the end is maybe even inevitable. Before you get there, however, be sure to sink into the subtly gorgeous melodies Herships has crafted along the way–in both the matter-of-fact verse and the swaying chorus–and the engaging, shifting ways she sings them.
“The Petal Song” is from Things We Liked To Hold, Spider’s new, self-released CD. MP3 via Last.fm, where you can listen to the whole thing, and also download four other free and legal MP3s. Spider by the way was previously featured on Fingertips in 2006, and was also one of the stars of the late, lamented Fingertips: Unwebbed CD.