Between bites of an indescribably cumbersome sandwich at Polonia on lower First Avenue, Eric Lindley explains the unusually intimate recording technique used on his latest album, Oh, Light. Lindley, who now records under the name Careful, tells me that the bulk of his most recent work was recorded in his girlfriends closet, which, with a bit of rough estimation, he says is only slightly larger than the area of the table were sitting at. I literally had to push clothing aside to fit the boom for the mic; I could barely fit the neck of the guitar in there Lindley recalls as he pensively contemplates the unwieldy comestible before him.
But the tiny space in which most of Oh, Light was recorded is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the intimacy of Carefuls music. Oh, Light is marked by a close, personal feeling at once eerily familiar and vaguely mysterious, keeping listeners engaged with a layered sound that reveals something new with each subsequent listening.
Lindley began his musical training in a highly academic setting while studying physics and engineering at Dartmouth University. Though originally a student of science, Lindleys interest in music and music theory was piqued by the peculiarities that accompany such a discipline. To study music theory is to study a really emotional thing in a very dry way, he says of his musical beginnings. How such a visceral thing can be reduced to such a formulaic basis always fascinated me. After graduating with degrees in both physics and music, Lindley went on to study with highly conceptual composer and author Jim Tenney at Cal Arts. There, Lindley began to understand and deconstruct music into its component parts, allowing him to build from the ground up according to his own vision. Though the training he received at both Dartmouth and Cal Arts stripped away the layers of music into a dry and formal understanding, Lindley didnt let academia suck the emotion from his songwriting. Even though it was a very open place, I was almost embarrassed to show my singersongwriter-y stuff, as if it somehow wasnt academic enough, he remembers.
For Lindley, personal feeling and a strong sense of intimacy are inseparable from both the writing and recording processes, even down to the instrumentation, which he records entirely himself. When it comes to music, Im super controlling, says Lindley of writing and recording. I can never articulate exactly what I want to other musicians, so I do it all myself. Theres something really entertaining to listen to several of the same voice all at once. Lindley insists that recorded music provides a level of intimacy that simply cannot be replicated in live performance, and therefore pours much of his energy into creating a recorded sound fraught with warmth and familiarity. When I listened to music as a kid I didnt like going to live shows, he remembers. You can be far more quiet while recording than you can live.
Oh, Light is awash with warm background drones (which Lindley created by bowing his guitar and bass in the tiny closet space) and nearly whispered vocals that encourage a close listening and amplify even the smallest change in chord and melody to sound like a massive tonal shift in the song. Lindley collected instruments from around the world, including an Indian harmonium, employed to create yet another layer of drones that provides a rich and thick aural texture to his album. Thats another thing that recording is good for: You dont have to play an instrument very well, you can record it in small chunks, says Lindley of his varied instrument collection.
The mood of the album regularly changes from pensive to hypnotic, from torpid to quietly exuberant, and in several places from a folksy poetic anthem to glitchy, electronic noise punctuated by Lindleys own chopped-up vocals. But these transitions do not come at the price of the continuity or unity of Oh, Light. Rather, the constant flux of moods and styles adds another level of depth, keeping you wondering and engaged until the very last second of every single track. Theres a tendency when doing anything to smooth over transitions, but theres always something very important for me about taking people out for a moment, Lindley says. Listeners, instead of being suddenly deprived of music, are instead left with what Lindley calls a loaded silence, in which the sounds that preceded it can be fully comprehended and reflected upon.
Still, the silence that comes with the albums conclusion does leave listeners wanting more. Hopefully, the silence, loaded as it may be, will be broken in the near future.
-- Careful Sept. 30, Public Assembly, 70 N. 6th St. (betw. Wythe & Kent Aves.), Brookyn, 718- 384-4586; 7, $10.