Photo by Richard Lenz
David Wilikofsky's review of 'Bent Ring' for Undercurrents
I wrote most of Bent Ring as 2020 promised, crossed into, and eventually failed to become 2021. During the writing period, I released a great many records, records that I am incredibly proud of, that I thought would be the crown or coronation of my career. The flowering purpose of the endless drives of Auto, the mushroom growing out of the rotting self that wrote Dehiscence, the cryptic pattern under the ashes of Editrix’s Tell Me I’m Bad, the wash of color around Cellini’s Halo, the blood of Bent Ring’s October twin, Bloodletting. The work and love that went into all these records was the point of making them, yet I still felt absolutely disappointed that I could not tour any of these records as they were released without contributing to the horrors of this intense period of global distress. As such, these songs are a meditation on work and love - how they intersect, how they interact with each other, how they drain, how they rehabilitate. It seems fitting for this meditation to take place on an instrument that is relatively foreign to me; distance can offer perspective.
When I asked him what he felt this record communicated, Michael Cormier (one of the label daddies of this fine establishment) said that it is “an effortless fusion of a love record, a statement of commitment to a life in the arts, a critique of arts industries and how inherently draining they are, that has never been communicated so seamlessly on any record before.” While I lack the temerity to have written that myself, I think he really got the point. I worry like an artist: do my newer friends I’ve met only like me because of my work, or the novelty that is my commitment to the art I make? Do my loves love the “me” of my songs, or whatever shambling dregs glimmer around them? I moved to New York during the pandemic - what is and was Massachusetts? What exactly is my relationship to the industry that allows my sounds to enter the landscape?
Bent Ring is an album about commitment, ambivalence, and joy. Appropriately, it began with a dare: can I write an album of songs that do not use the guitar at all? On this record, I am a tenor banjo-player (and a singer, and a bassist). Specifically, I play a strange, salvaged, nameless banjo. My shadow. (My other shadow is also Michael Cormier, who slays the percussion). Twice, I sing a hymn that I first heard as the first track of Thelonious Monk’s Monk’s Music. On that record, what I sing is played by John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, Gigi Gryce, and Ray Copeland. The lyrics, by Henry Francis Lyte, beseech whatever holy constants to stay constant with us, as things move, inexorably, in living and loving. Music is motion, is beauty, is work, is love, is perspective, is constant.
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