A Stick and a Stone – The Long Lost Art of Getting Lost (cassette Sentient Ruin / Breathe Plastic, CD Spirit House; 21 July 2017)
Hey… remember several months back when Bandcamp donated all of their profits one day to the ACLU to aid in the fight for equal rights for all? Well apparently that was a big success, and they’ve decided to do something similar again, TODAY.
Their announcement earlier this week said, in part (read the whole thing here):
We support our LGBT+ users and staff, and we stand against any person or group that would see them further marginalized. This includes the current U.S. administration, and its recent capricious declaration that transgender troops will no longer be able to serve in the military.
In response, we will be donating 100% of our share of every sale on Friday, August 4th (from midnight to midnight Pacific Time) to the Transgender Law Center, a nonprofit organization that works tirelessly to change law, policy, and culture for the more equitable.
That announcement also included a list of featured artists of various gender identities, and they’ve also posted a follow-up detailing hundreds of bands and labels who’ve pledged to join in by donating all or part of THEIR profits from today as well.
Of course, our archives here at Valley of Steel are filled with releases that are available on Bandcamp as well, if you’re looking for something to buy today. And if you keep reading, here’s one more recent release you may wish to consider.
A Stick and a Stone — named, I’m guessing, for the proverbial items that could break your bones — is a minimalist-folk-doom project helmed by bassist/vocalist Elliott Harvey, joined by Myles Donovan (whose main band Disemballerina we wrote about here) on viola, and a handful of different drummers and cellists. Plus the first few tracks each have somebody credited with “noise,” Donovan also plays harp at the end of “Spider Bite,” there are some orchestral bells in “Arrow” and what sounds like a xylophone closing out the record at the end of “Return.”
But mostly the arrangements are led by the bass guitar with viola providing counterpoint, drums holding everything together from the back of the room, and Harvey‘s vocals — vulnerable, expressive, and often forlorn — floating on top, somewhere in a range that’s partway between Nico and Thom Yorke.
The album’s songs, seven in all, feel representative of a journey. A lot of music seems to take the listener somewhere new, but here it feels more like experiences that have been documented over time and now being narrated. There’s quite a bit of imagery and metaphoric language, to the point where the message feels universally relatable even if it originated with one person’s particular story. The overall vibe is both mournful and peaceful, yet there’s still an underlying sense of tension just beneath the surface that’s always threatening to emerge.
For example, while most of the songs are relatively calm and ethereal, most also grow more intense and emotive at some point: in opener “Erosion” and in “Spider Bite” the bass gets a bit distorted at certain points, turning the arrangement heavier and moodier; “Arrow” and “Willow” each see the addition of some aggressively vibrato viola.
Some of these seem to be composed in such a way as to exemplify a transformative process in the sound of the music: “Hawk” starts off sort of like a slow folk dance, but speeds up a bit, later the drumming sounds almost tribalesque; in “Willow” the drum rhythms seem a little awkward to start out, the vocals particularly tentative and vulnerable, but both the singing and drumming get stronger (and sound more assured) as it goes on.
All of these occasional shifts in mood and tone come across like portrayals of having battled inner turmoil, and having come out tentatively victorious, although that anxiety or self-doubt or whatever it is, is always still lingering somewhere nearby. One of the album’s most powerful moments is in the second half of “Prescription,” with a direct reference to such an internal conflict in the refrain that’s repeated over and over in the last few minutes: “Cut your hair and feed it to your demons / so you can stuff their mouths and clog their throats / Cut your hair and feed it to your demons / so you can’t hear their shouts anymore.”
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