A Stick and a Stone – Versatile (Anima Recordings, 15 January 2021)
Good afternoon! Time for another installment of Valley of Steel Presents: Noises for You to Shove in Your Ears. Gonna try to keep this short and sweet: still working on that whole brevity thing. After all, if I really wanted people to care about the words I’m saying, I could just go write a book or something, right? The whole point here is for you to discover new stuff to listen to. So I’ll tell you a little bit about it, then you work your way down the page and hit that PLAY button. Fair enough?
Last time we heard from A Stick and a Stone was in 2017 when The Long Lost Art of Getting Lost was released. On that relatively bass-heavy, doomy-and-gloomy record, lead vocalist/head writer/founding member Elliott Miskovicz seemingly needed to let out some anguish and angst.
Released nearly two months ago, follow-up Versatile feels much more serene; actually, perhaps the best descriptor would be ‘pastoral.’ As it turns out, this tonal shift makes perfect sense, as the new album was written and recorded following Elliott‘s “relocation to living off-grid in the woods” [near Portland OR] “after a lifetime in the dense Philadelphia area,” as “when multiple health conditions began exacerbating in urban environments, it became imminently necessary for him to relocate to quieter landscapes.”
Throughout eleven tracks, the vocals waver between angelic and vulnerable, dulcet and delicate — soaring above a chamber ensemble whose variable orchestration of violas, violins, cellos, and harps lay down a blanket of droning and hypnotic tones, often complemented by various percussion as well as found-sound recordings that provide contrast and just enough tension to keep things captivating.
Much of the stringed accompaniment here is added by a rotating cast of guest musicians — some of whom, like prolific harpist/violist Myles Donovan, reprising their appearances on The Long Lost Art of Getting Lost; and also like that previous release, mastering of this recording was done by Amber Asylum leader Kris Force. This is a fact I had not been aware of when writing about the 2017 record but it seems especially fitting this time around, given the haunting and ethereal nature of the material.
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