Reviews Voice Coils' Heaven's Sense EP
There is something familiar about Voice Coils' new EP Heaven's Sense. It is vaguely reminiscent of some 90s hit-man video game (Goldenye 007, anybody?), and nostalgic for the insanely polished minor triads and diminished chords the metal kids were always showing off in high school.
The music is crowded, and between the heavy guitar riffs and the droned synth and vocals it is hard to pick out a lyric or to find something melodious other than the chords, skeletal arepeggios that cut and progress until they find a way to some tone cluster or dissonant sixth, seventh, you name it. But the music is also tight. The EP is just under 15 minutes long, with four tracks that display an incredible amount of technical ability. These are serious players, and I would guess the majority of them have some classical training. Them being: Sam Garrett, Mitski, Caley Monahon-Ward, Kelly Moran, Kevin Wunderlich, and Cameron Wisch.
The eponymous first track ends with Mitski's ascending voice saying 'nothing' and then 10 seconds of sustained reverb. 'An Atrium' then crashes in with Mitski sustaining a major second, echoing the disappearance in the last track. And so begins a clusterfuck of noise. It's great.
'An Atrium' is the first track that got me thinking about the exquisite depth achieved in these compositions. There is of course the layering, but there is also a kind of spatial dimension. The heavy three note riff (E G F#) that we hear for the first time at :50 is a calm place that we return to three times throughout the piece. The first of these three notes (E) is sunken and feels like an arrival. But this safe place changes at the end when the three notes are on repeat for nearly a full minute. What was once a safe arrival is now a place of waiting, a stasis. The song ends with an E-flat and makes me think of blood slowly dripping down the screen in, yes, Goldeneye 007.
There is some pretty unsettling shit happening at the end of these tracks, which makes me think that the major progressions that start at 4:12 in 'You in A Place for A While by Yourself' is somewhat in jest. And that the euphoric burst at the end is a rabbit hole. Watch out!
The listening experience is one of wonder or wander—related to that feeling of nostalgia and recognition I mentioned before. Sam refers to Voice Coils as a 'project,' and also called Voice Coils' recent performance at Roulette (an avant-garde venue in Brooklyn) 'a set of entirely reimagined material past and present.' Which is to say that the music is in flux, intentionally open to change, and available to renewal. On top of the very real tonal similarities to some far away memory of the 90s or some prog-rock band, I can't help but wonder if Sam Garrett composed these tracks with a broader conceit in mind.
'You in A Place for A While by Yourself' was released in April 2015 as a digital track. The second iteration, released as part of Heaven's Sense EP, is twice the length and feels completely different than its former self. Based on the changes made to this composition I think it serves us well to think of, or at least consider, these compositions as existing in the present but with a definite future.
The last track is 'Black is the Colour of my True Love's Hair.' This song arrived in Appalachia around 1915 and is suspected to have its origins in Scotland. Over the last 100 years this song has been performed by artists ranging from Patty Waters and Nina Simone to Wye Oak and Lauryn Hill. I was initially baffled by the inclusion of this song on the EP. Considering Heaven's Sense is Voice Coils first EP I would imagine it would want to showcase original work. But ultimately its inclusion is a salute to music's ability to endure, to evolve.
In an interview published on IMPOSE Magazine's website Sam says that Voice Coils' most fitting mantra might be 'Liberate tutame ex inferis' (Save yourself from Hell). If Hell is eternal stasis then I think the project of Voice Coils is to move, to agitate, to create space for something to continue and for something to grow.
"There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space."
—Marco Polo in Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities
Corinne Bennett grew up in Brooklyn and began studying violin at age 7. She completed her undergraduate degree at Goucher College and received a B.A. in English. She now teaches Suzuki violin in Brooklyn and can sometimes be found in a hole near Lincoln Center surrounded by many old stringed instruments.