Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Past Greatness: February '18

Welcome to the 15th installment of Past Greatness, a monthly series I'll be doing showcasing great, older works. All albums listed below are of 8+ quality. For this month, we discover a family-first band nestled quietly in their discomforting world under the shrouded trees of Maine

Big Blood | Dark Country Magic
2010 | Avant-Folk | Listen

Few things excite me more as a music aficionado than the discovery of a brilliant artist whose catalogued is just waiting to be exhumed. All it took was two special clicks. One came when Dark Country Magic's full album curiously situated itself on YouTube's sidebar suggestions. The next occurred when I impatiently skipped ahead, landing directly on one of the many exceptional peaks of 'Song For RO-HE-GE,' realizing immediately that a glistening gem just landed in my lap. Big Blood is primarily composed of Colleen Kinsella and Caleb Mulkerin, a married couple holed up in Maine, churning out spellbinding Psychedelic Folk at a rate that would make Young Thug jealous. On the broad surface, they evoke every fundamental element of what makes a true artist. Like much of their discography, Dark Country Magic concerns itself with the many (and I mean many) faces of Psychedelic Folk, a genre that has such unparalleled depth that it's shocking, in the modern era, few beyond early Animal Collective and Grouper investigated it far enough. Demented Folk tunes that conjure New Orleans juju, combining it with a New England isolation that would find a cold, wooden home in a Stephen King novel. There truly is nothing like Big Blood. A band that outpaces whatever constitutions one may have for the definition of atmospherically-rich.

About that phrase 'true artist,' and how Big Blood represents it so well. Their freakish music finds no comparison, only existing alongside coinciding acts like Cerberus Shoal and Fire On Fire, two bands (one leaning more towards Post-Rock, the other Country) that are guided by Mulkerin and Kinsella respectively. Like Bjork, Death Grips, or Boards Of Canada, their strictly-defined aesthetic allows the band to be identified without any contextual clues. Whether it's Kinsella's weeping nursery rhyme on the void of 'Oh My Child,' their dismal dungeon chants on 'Ringers In The Fold,' the duo's pagan sacrifice ritual on 'Reverse Hymnal,' or their euphoric trance on the stunning drone of '...Is All We Have,' Big Blood's idiosyncrasies are defined by heavy fuzz, gravely vocals, and a brooding ominous cloud hanging over the peasants forging it. Adding to that layer of indoctrination is Dark Country Magic's cover, and all those under the Big Blood name, drawn with an equally identifiable signature by Kinsella herself. Her drawings act as creepy, crude, and demented alternatives to the Post-Impressionism movement in the early 19th century, a perfect compliment to the music contained within. Her Etsy is a treasure trove of material like this. And while those prints cost money, their entire music catalogue can be downloaded for free on Big Blood's Bandcamp, a true barometer for artists creating for the sake of artistry.

While one may worry, based on the above descriptions, that Big Blood's music invites redundancy, in Dark Country Magic's case that's most certainly not true. Despite being their umpteenth album, in a discography that's seemingly endless, the sheer variety administered on Dark Country Magic, whilst adhering to their schtick, is impressive. Kinsella and Mulkerin essentially divvy up their prospects into three styles; melodic chorales, Avant-Garde interludes, and voracious campfire anthems. These passages flow interchangeably between one another, best seen on the album's final six tracks which are linked via a quiet, atonal whirr. 'AIRAID AIR RAID,' not coincidentally, commences this signal with an unsettling siren offset by eerie tribal drums, only to transition flawlessly into the riotous, marshy hoedown of '...Is All We Have.' 'Waiting Is...' acts as an extended interlude between climaxes, finding Kinsella creepily singing as a shriveled matriarch on the porch's rocking chair, which eventually pounces into Dark Country Magic's shining beacon 'Song For RO-HE-GE.' The standout features an array of phenomenal guitars perpetually leading to a promised climax in which the duo holler out "you are the sun!" It's gorgeous.

However, the other half of Big Blood's greatness comes in the quiet period after 'Song For RO-HE-GE's' recitation on the quiet and anxious 'Coming Home Pt. III.' Both these peaks are the same length and utilize the group's noted drone accordingly, despite the overwhelming mood being entirely paradoxical. Kinsella's quivering vocals shine here, as she longs for a reunion that'll likely never occur. Her motherly stature tugs emphatically at one's heartstrings, something that's expanded upon with Dark Country Magic's closer 'Moo-Hoo.' In it, a child (one can presume the couple's daughter) performs a children's story, compete with adorable miscues and playful acting. After enduring the album's dire tone, what would once be considered lighthearted and jovial quickly turns creepy and sinister, something only true artist's are capable of turning through sleight of hand. To think Dark Country Magic is but one of a lineage of albums from Big Blood, not a one-time curiosity or standout piece, is a remarkable accomplishment for a group whose notoriety is severely underrepresented. They deserve more applause, but I feel Big Blood adores their reticent, cult-like mystique. 

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