7.20.21 by Matty McPherson
I’ve started spending Saturday mornings at the local media bodega. The image may imply storage warehouse, but it’s really more pauper’s drop: boxes of (the latest in) VHS, laserdisc, vinyl, and deadstock cassettes littered across the floor. This whole ordeal is all about how much you know your 80’s major label tapes, as well as whether or not you think dust particles in your lungs are worth it. Having talked to local Tabs Out legend, M. Sage, a while back about these types of dives, he steered me towards the Windham Hill and ECM cassettes, which I’m always on the prowl for. Needless to say the excess of major labor distribution channels sure did provide an unfathomable range of esoteric, cosmopolitan sounds in the 1980s.
So, my ears had been a little more primed for Henry Birdsey’s Half Dragged. It is a recent release from back in January, a studio session of material road-tested during a California tour from a moment yonder. Yet, it sounds as if it could have been culled from anytime out of those damned boxes I search through. In the past, Birdsey’s label, Other Minds, has been not willing to approach the ferric medium. They’re more of a high quality CD n’ Vinyl kinda outfit. Kudos then to their faith placed in Andrew Weathers (of Full Spectrum Records) whose usually mastery and post-production works transfer this release for BOTH portable Walkman and quadraphonic soundworks. Plus, Other Minds adorns the release with a decked out Birdsey biography, essay, and tuning/production notes; ROIR-level shit!
Turning to those liner notes, author Jakob Battick contextualizes the lap steel as a blues and folk instrument, although Birdsey’s meticulous configuration and tooling of the lap steel approaches a blank zone. Strung up with “close dissonances between neighboring strings” and “competing 5th functions to create a rattling, ominous Dominant drag,” Birdsey pieces are imbued with an assured meditative quality. Birdsey performs them with two violin bows and metal (to keep the lap steel returned) and overdubbed once, which creates the effect of harmonious sound disintegrating; that’s really a scientific way of saying “light water pattering down the pipes.” Sinking down with those sounds is easy. Especially when that endless, spidery deteriorative pattern is enticing, as in the closing meditation of “HD-”!
It gave me a strong throwback to both Phicus’ Liquid and a (real fringe) Windham Hill tape dedicated to Tibetan Chants. Both concurring reflection of utilitarian space design, I suppose.