Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pillars and Tongues on Endless Nest Records

Pillar and Tongues are a three piece out of Chicago making expansive, spiritual droning orchestral pieces which feature Mark Trecka's cavernous vocals, which become the focus of the record. It's almost about someone who has this kind of control over his vocal ability, and can transform a lyric from just a vehicle for communication into a compelling instrument.

It shouldn't surprise me when a band like this makes the focus of their work the exploration of something that can too easily be taken for granted in music composition, but when Pillars and Tongues deliver it in this subtle way it sneaks up on you and suddenly seems obvious. There's still infinite possibilities for this most basic instrument before even banging on something outside that cave, we've been continually innovating the sound and use of the voice since the very first compositions. Evan has a deep Peter Murphy type voice, with an authoritative, blues style seriousness of Mark Lennegan. Sort of like that demo album, the recordings Wai Notes between Will Oldham and Dawn McCarthy for The Letting Go, recorded in Iceland, somehow perfectly representing that geography in spirit.

Pillars and Tongues then utilize minimal accompaniment, the three members are working with a bare bones structure from violin and bass which end up a lot of times being bowed in an imperceptibly endless way, resulting in one long, deep foundation to lay Evan's dense prose on this meditative album, The Pass and Crossings. There's a big churchy reverb to everything to give it that expansive feel, it belongs in this huge space, it easily fills that kind of area.

The A-Side begins with an expansive piece, "A Dance in The Billowing Absence", just strings and organ, the violin wavering in a deliberately unsettling way, conveying this kind of a breakdown, giving you an idea that this isn't going to be conventional classically delivered instrumentation. They are creating contemporary dirges between the harmonies of the stringed instruments. The pairing of Elizabeth Remis' violin with Evan's works throughout the album in the same huge frequency and range of expression, they are equals working in different ways.

They continue to explore melodies that range from slowly shifting drones to middle east inspired arrangements on the next track "Palms to Tell". While the instrumentation takes it's time, lyrically Evan is piling up all kind of abstractions seemingly dealing with the deepest primal emotions of love and death. There's religious references throughout to votives, pilgrims and virgins with children. Surprisingly, it doesn't ever feel dark, there isn't an ounce of gothic's foreboding or morbidity, they're dealing with these heavy subjects in something of a hymn to a higher powr. By the last track on the the A-Side they even start to introduce more tribal percussion rhythms moving clearly from an introspective personal place to maybe an outward celebratory feel, probably evident by the title of this one, "Thank you, Oaky".

The B-Side opens with "Oaky (Doting)" and I'm starting to put this entire album together as a conceptual album about a spiritual journey, where as the previous track, the narrator was praising this Oaky character, in this one another voice is condemning his following, and we're back to the bare minimal layering of strings in rising and falling mantra's. Introducing doubt. "The Making Graceful" picks things up again with a complex primal rhythm, the vocal and violin mixed closely together, the beat taking over the middle of the B-side and the violin here even sounding hopeful, optimistic. This side ends with "Decadent Crossing", bringing the somber tone of the opening full circle, this time Evan's vocal is echoing sentiment from a distance, another character chiming in from another plane, a far off echo on the vocal, this could be some kind of end/beginning transformation 'crossing' and these are just the kind of heavy themes Pillars are going for, trying to elevate self expression into something bigger than yourself.

Pillars and Tongues extend their tracks into hymns that stretch out for seemingly endless periods of time across both sides of this full length LP from Empty Cellar Records a hugely celebratory mantra about this abstract spiritual journey but for the human voice.

Track listing:
1. A Dance In The Billowing Absence
2. The Palms to Tell
3. Thank You, Oaky
4. Oaky (Doting)
5. The Making Graceful
6. Decadent Crossing

Go pick up this full length record with great newsprint poster with reverse liner notes from Empty Cellar Records. Completely related to another on from Empty Cellar, The Sandwitches and Will Oldham's massive catalog.

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