with Up Is The Down Is The and Oceans Are Zeroes
Singer/songwriter Nate Lacy spent the years since his teens exploring his inner world and his connection with the universe at large. The result of his efforts was a small collection of songs that, when finally recorded and released as Mimicking Birds in 2010, received such accolades as Pitchfork’s assessment that the debut LP was “extremely gifted with cyclical melodies: thorny fingerpicked spines around which he can snake a range of sounds simply for ambience.”
These days, Lacy is focusing his gaze further outward, exploring what he calls “the infinite and the infinitesimal,” while also keeping lyrical watch on the crossroads where our digital future and our pastoral past bump up against each other.
Few are the artists who are able to bring such thorny and thoughtful issues to bear in their music, but that is just one of the many reasons that Eons, the new album from Mimicking Birds, is so very special.
How this comes out through Lacy is in toothsome lyrics that are filled to bursting with imagery, philosophical questions, and deep personal concerns. That he finds ways to tie these concepts together without losing his way or our fascination with them is a testament to his songwriting prowess.
The rest of the band, Aaron Hanson and Adam Trachsel, works to remain connected to the Birds’ of yore, emphasizing fingerpicked acoustic guitars, the sturdy tones of a stand-up bass, and restrained drums, while pushing into the future as well. Too, Eons feels as expansive as its title thanks to the help of producer Jeremy Sherrer (The Gossip, 1776). He helped weave some gorgeous electronic textures into the songs – listen for the skittering programmed beat that helps carry “Owl Hoots” forward, or the swells of keyboards that pull closing track “Movin’ On” towards an ‘80s pop sunrise.
It’s quite a lot for one album or one band to carry on its shoulders, but Mimicking Birds and Eons prove capable of bearing the weight of this expansive view of the physical world and the world that we can only reach through an amazing piece of music. Eons has 10 such tracks that will transport, delight, and surprise you, even through multiple listens.
Up Is The Down Is The is headed by multi-instrumentalist Andrew Martin, who blends elements of Indie Rock, R&B, jazz, and electronic music.
I remember seeing these guys play under a former name in a small jewel-box theater in Seattle. There were maybe ninety people there, and almost none of them had heard of this band that were “somebody’s friends from Idaho or something.” It was already late, even for a weekend show, and their stage setup was elaborate. One could hear whispers of “Is this necessary?” and “Really? A theremin?” The lights finally dimmed and the first enigmatic chord silenced all conversation, drawing the crowd forward with an unnerving emotional authority. Every eye was fixed and every mouth stayed shut…for the entire set. After forty minutes of what some present later described as “a religious experience,” the band humbly bid goodnight to a room of tears and gaping jaws. A bomb had dropped, and in the fallout silence every searching expression asked, “What the hell just happened to me?”
After years of painstaking, meticulous labor, the band that has become Oceans Are Zeroes serves a sober, cinematic, tranquil, and exultant album. These songs leave us shivering in cold spells of doubt and toss with us in sleepless nights. In them we crawl over the merciless tundra of unrequited love and quiver with indignant rage at broken promises. We are taken up on the hopeful wings of the morning and sunk into the depths of the sea. We are haunted by perplexity and muted in humble resignation. We are washed ashore and consoled by the lapping of the very ocean whose breakers broke us. Are you familiar with grief? Are you acquainted with sorrow? Do you know from the trenches that joy is a fight? Then these songs know you. And, if we listen well, the ache, the tears, the hope and the fury galvanize into a vehement resolve. We sense that there is something at stake in this life, that in our moral universe there is risk, reward, danger, and consequence. There is goodness, truth, and beauty; these must be tended and fought for.
Sometimes, however, we don’t feel any of that. Disillusionment and perplexity leave us numb and dumbstruck. We stare into an ocean, that bleak, gray expanse, and feel nothing. If that’s you, let these songs do what they did for me. Let them work as a “solvent,” as Glen Hansard put it, that unbinds “the glue in our hearts that closes us up and makes us impenetrable beings.” I hope you can feel and that something tastes again. I hope that you can love something and fight for it. I hope for the end of your monochromatic season, that the clouds scatter and your ocean glows turquoise, teeming with life.