Good afternoon! If you’ve been hanging around here for a bit, you’ve probably heard Disemballerina, whose 2014 and 2016 albums were covered here, and A Stick and a Stone who had a release we discussed back in 2017 and one just this past January.
But if you haven’t — both are musical projects that generally tend toward the folk/ambient, sometimes a bit on the experimental side with unusual instrumentations, but always highly expressive, cathartic responses to both inner and outer turmoil. And over the past few months each has released a new single or EP, both of which I’d like to point in the direction of your ears today. Enjoy!
Disemballerina – Fawn (Riff Merchant Records, 06 August 2021)
A Stick and a Stone – Root Shock (Spirit House, 03 November 2021)
Portland-based Disemballerina once again features the “queer chamber doom” ensemble of violist/harpist Myles Donovan, cellist Jennifer Christensen, and guitarist Ayla Holland. New EP Fawn includes a trio of tracks, each inspired by the basic physiological responses to stressors: fight/flight/freeze.
All three songs are generally mournful and dark, like the encountering of a stressful situation and the response to it is usually not a welcome occurrence, but even the normal state of things prior to such an encounter is already kind of gloomy and dismal. But the stringed melodies and accompaniments take a clearly menacing turn in spots, particularly in “Pancada” which represents the “fight” reaction. Although the EP runs just under a quarter of an hour in total, its emotive expressionism is very moving, and in a way comforting — if only because of the universal relatability of its subject matter.
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A Stick and a Stone, which features Philly ex-pat Elliott Miskovicz and the occasional guest musicians (including, coincidentally, Disemballerina‘s Myles on a few occasions previously), had been in the process of settling in rural Oregon for health reasons when we checked out Versatile in early 2021, and I understand another move is now underway; this time to Tucson, Arizona.
Written throughout all this turmoil, new song “Root Shock” focuses on “the psychological and emotional toll of displacement,” whether due to gentrification or any other means of excluding marginalized communities. This newly-released single features a live recording of the song as performed by its writer along with an anonymous audience member who improvised an accompaniment on musical saw.
While I haven’t heard any version of the song without this supplementary material (and I’m not sure whether such a version exists), it would be very easy to believe this song was always intended to sound exactly like this, so well does the vibrating cutting device complement the haunting, wistful singing and simple acoustic guitar backing.
The single’s B-side is a cover of the Freddie Mercury solo tune “Living on My Own.” Severely stripped down from the upbeat 80s-pop original version, this slower piano-and-vocal interpretation is a lovely way of paying respect and honoring a gay icon, while also connecting the dots between the current pandemic situation and the AIDS crisis of that time — punctuated perhaps by a nod to the exasperation and frustration (especially in the repeated last few lines of this new recording) of how little progress we’ve actually made as a society, in terms of addressing many of the exact same socioeconomic issues, civil rights issues, ecological issues, etc., that seem to keep going in a vicious circle.
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