Guitars come from trees. Take the hardest softwoods—paulownias and pines; the softest hardwoods—mahogany and ash. Maybe some tough angry wood—circassian walnut. After the tree comes the chainsaw, the jig, the belt sander, until music is made from mystery—a walk in the woods, a splash, a scream. Has someone died or was that an orgasm?
Every question is an adventure for Batworth Stone. The rhythm isn’t played, it’s built. Bassist Jennifer Keith and percussionist Chris Ciattei are supple musicians who do some heavy lifting—they wear hard hats—but their beauty lies in the conversation they make with each song. The soca beat on “Afraid of the Sun,” the polyrhythmic stride drumming on “Pod Patrol,” and the Southwest flamenco underlay on “The Dunes Have I’s,” show some great reach, and their engaging tempo throughout is the shadow that won’t stop getting bigger no matter how many lamps are lit.
Keith’s Fender bass and Ciattei’s sticks—their go-stop, go-stop, go-stop tension on “Come and Get It” for example—balance the music without flattening it like Pop. There are ridges here, and gorges, and limestone caves. This is what sets the moment for Joe Stone’s lavish fingering on his journeyman Telecaster. Every note he plays is stressed. The stronger the balance, the freer are Stone and his brother Joel to tease and chase the melody, until it turns and chases them.
Joel’s glockenspiel, his hollow body Gibson, and his 12-string offer nice adornments, as does the occasional feedback and outboard tank. Distortion is in the ear of the beholder. Half of these songs are instrumentals. The listener can make up his own words, but even more, no one is trying to stay out of the way of a lead vocal. Batworth Stone does some interesting grid work here, at times putting the solo in the beginning of a song before the chart has been attended, and in the epic “Stay Awake,” there are even multiple transitions to song parts that are never heard.
“The Part of No (You Don’t Understand)” is one of those rare songs that accomplishes with vocals what can often only be achieved as an instrumental. Keith, who does most of the singing when there’s singing to be had, changes her persona several times here as she talks and whispers and screams her way out of a saggy, swaying beat. Keith is one of those who worships the generation which came before her and the one which is coming after her. Her love ballad to Voidoid frontman Richard Hell synchs nicely with multi-mood trips like the “Tomorrowland” and “Bleak House.”
Batworth Stone visits many places on the post-punk train route taking on wood and water, hushing at the crossroads, and hurrying with a vengeful, but steady-gets-it energy until the choppy ocean is a dance hall and everyone has tasted fire—until the world is upside down with hot love and lonely and laughing your head off when you mean to cry.
There’s shape to this sound, and blindness too. This is music meant to be heard in the dark. Grunt the words. Shake the music out of your leaf. Do this without taking your lips off your lover.