Thursday, August 05, 2010

Careful: Oh, Light

Oh, Light
Rating: 3.5/5.0
Label: Sounds Super Recordings

Some albums are meant to be listened to alone, as if the quietness of solitude heightens their emotional impact. For me, albums like The Trinity Sessions, The Ghost of Tom Joad or I See a Darkness have always been best enjoyed on a set of headphones or playing at a low volume apart from the crowd. It feels inappropriate - and cheap - to listen to albums like these in front of other people, to say nothing of the fact that doing so would depress the shit out of everyone. Nothing can clear a crowded room of all levity quite like "Mining for Gold," "Sinaloa Cowboys" or "A Minor Place."

Oh, Light, writer/poet/musician Eric Lindley's newest effort under the Careful moniker, carries a similar vibe. It isn't consistently strong enough to be compared to these aforementioned albums, but it is reminiscent of them in terms of tone and, occasionally, style. The album is fairly sparse, its instrumentation usually consisting of guitar and perhaps too-frequent brushes of electronic glitches and other noises, with Lindley's vocals straining and sometimes breaking just barely above a whisper. The album moves deliberately and requires a certain amount of patience and attention from the listener, especially in the languid pacing and vocal phrasing of songs like "I Shot An Apple Off Her Head," "Carnival" and "I Loved a Girl but She Loved Me." Other tracks uniquely blend the acoustic with the experimental, most strikingly on the prolonged tension of "Turns Out" and in the static interference of "New Life." These little accents are enough to distinguish Lindley from the current crop of indie artists working from a similar aesthetic, even if his electronic tendencies are laid on a too thickly in "Every Epiphany," "We Give Up" and "Oi, Etc."

Oh, Light's imagery and lyrics tend to be somewhat oblique and non-linear. There is a heavy emphasis on physiology, as references to fists, eyes, splintered knuckles, breath, hair, body organs sold for money and fingers touching ribs form a sketchy but consistent narrative. Though Lindley is by no means unintelligible, it's sometimes difficult to fully understand what he's saying, an effect that actually adds some mystery to these songs and forces the listener to zero in on a precise phrase like, "There is a lever I can crank/ To pull my skin back tighter/ There is a powerful machine to fill the holes/ Inside my bones and teeth" or something more prosaic like "let's build a monument to memory."

The album is brief, barely cracking 30 minutes, but this brevity works; anything longer might have felt too oppressive or willfully obtuse. There is of course no shortage of solo artists making intimate, home-recorded albums along the lines of Oh, Light, but there is a quality in Lindley's vocals and unobtrusive instrumentals that many of other musicians lack. As clich├ęd as it sounds, Oh, Light is an album of fragility and beauty that invites reflection and contemplation, foregoing big riffs and bigger vocals for something far more refined, restrained and moving.

(Some copies of the album include demo versions of Oh, Light songs "Carnival," "Scrappy," "Fox and His Friends" and "We Give Up," as well as a few tracks that don't appear on the record. Most of these are even more skeletal than their album counterparts and are well worth seeking out).

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