catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 14 :: 2005.07.15 — 2005.07.28


Some friends and a house

While I often find out about new music through reviews in Uncut, Paste, The Onion and CMJ, I have been trying to listen to this new music without having already decided what I?m going to hear. I read about an album, get the review copy in the mail, and then take a good listen. Only then do I go back to the review or the press information.

That?s how I came to really enjoy Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project by Mirah YomTov Zeiltlyn, Ginger Brooks Takahashi, and Friends, released by K Records in 2004. The album has instrumentals, ambient recordings, fragments of songs, and full-fledged songs. It grabs lots of different instruments: steel drum, strings, guitars, drums, sampling, banjo, slide guitar, tape sequences, horns, handclaps.

Without knowing the background story, the album appears to be a collection meant to explore wide-ranging corners of rock music. This is like a folk music foundation to what could easily spill into campus bar rock ?n? roll. In other words, while it gives the appearance of folk music, this is College Rock?intelligent, experimental, varied rock. It is low-fi, indie rock.

Now add Fact #1 from the story of the album: Zeitlyn and Takahashi recorded this album over a period of a month in a house near Black Mountain, North Carolina, having seven friends stop in during the month to contribute to the album. It was an experiment of stepping away from their known worlds and finding a place to concentrate on making music.

Listening again to the album knowing this, you can hear how the recording gives you the dimensions of the house, the spaces and rooms of a house in the Blue Ridge Mountains. This is music made while someone else is making dinner in the kitchen. This is music made when a friend stops in for a glass of wine. This is music made while waking up in the same place with the same person over the course of weeks. These are snippets of conversations, visions, dreams, and sounds from Zeitlyn and Takahashi?s time together.

Now add Fact #2: Zeitlyn and Takahashi only were friends for about three months before they went away on the Black Mountain Music Project. You would?ve gotten a very different recording from long-time friends or collaborators. Instead, they are willing to try different styles and directions, not having a preconceived notion of what it had to sound like. That leads to an uneven listening experience?the album doesn?t maintain the groove or tempo or feel from track to track. Here is a chance to take in a varied experience you might only get if you had a house full of friends creating new music. Besides, albums that are extremely even are often critiqued as being over-produced.

Finally add Fact #3: Takahashi is coeditor of LTTR, a lesbian and queer art journal. Zeitlyn says that she is known as ?mostly gay!? How does their sexual orientation change the listening experience? Well, as I?ve struggled with before in writing about music, my immediate reaction is to walk away, not wanting to condone overly perverse queer culture. Yet, then I would suddenly be done with the listening experience, rather than coming to the music with my own thoughts and views, while still being able to learn and appreciate and even groove to the music.

And I?m not even sure that sexual orientation matters in the songs that do have lyrics. Even when talking about love, whoever is the object of that love and desire, the desire for love is still the universal one with which we all struggle.

Put Facts #1, #2, and #3 together and listen to the last song, ?September,? an acoustic groove, doo-wop. The song is all about being together and making music (Fact #1). Obviously over the course of the their time together, Zeitlyn and Takahashi really grew close, and the joy of this song shows that so well (Fact #2). Again, I?m not sure if Fact #3 is even a factor.

I guess I just applied the historical-grammatical approach to a CD. This is the theological approach I take when interpreting Scripture, reading it both with an eye to the original historical situation/setting/audience while also trying to understand the language/grammar/structure/genre of the writing.

Same here, by adding the facts as background to Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project, I have placed it in its historical situation while also trying to understand the structure/genre of the music. Music can be heard in a vacuum, but rarely is it really heard without understanding something about the artist or the song?s time-place. Passing a quick judgment against someone?s music because the artist?s lifestyle doesn?t match your values or faith could easily lead to missing out on some good music, understanding the people around you, and actually seeing how God connects with all people.

So get out of the vacuum, turn up Zeitlyn and Takahashi, and get transported to the a big house in the mountains in North Carolina where we?re all friends, making music, and enjoying life.

This review originally appeared on May 1, 2004, at Benjamin Squires? music review site, Music Spectrum. Squires is Associate Pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Manitowoc, WI. Thanks to K Records ( for providing a review copy of Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus