Jenks Miller and Nicholas Szczepanik - American Gothic [Small Doses - 2011]Despite its cover photo implying a modern day version of the famous painting by Grant Wood (after which the album is named), where a lone child in Hallowe’en costume now holds a plastic pitchfork in front of an apartment block or commercial building, the music contained within is far from traditional. Forged between their home studios situated nearly 800 miles apart, Jenks Miller’s in North Carolina and Nicholas Szczepanik’s in Chicago, the duo explore combining layers of concrète, electronics, organ and occasionally percussion to produce five suspenseful works of introspection and instability.
This fight between inner and outer senses is most evident on the opening track, ‘A Private Life’, as we are introduced to an unpleasantly high pitched glassy tone juxtaposed with a simple lullaby refrain on a chiming organ occasionally interrupted by whirrs and scratches. ‘Sin Killers’ follows in much the same way as the clatter of rummaging emphasised by reverb is offset by the sort of lush and long chords found in Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks theme.
The qualities of each layer evolve, sometimes imperceptibly, as minute adjustments of spectral bands and overtones breathe life into the sounds making them move through the room. This is deftly demonstrated on ‘White Light’ where the long solemn tones of a church organ curl elegantly in the air before sparse percussion highlights the growth of a crumbling static wave that steadily grows to tsunamic proportions. It seethes, shivers and shifts as it slices the air like the destructive dance of a malignant amorphous spirit, yet all the while remaining gilded by the reverent organ tones.
Most destructive of all though is the closing track, ‘Cranberry Sauce’ that follows a similar recipe to ‘White Light’ with a serenely droning organ’s heavenly effect progressively eroded by a full frequency static assault of increasing volume and decreasing granularity. The rising intensities place the listener onto a flight over a dieing world before diverting straight up directly into the invasive cosmic force. And, just as you begin to worry about the wear and tear this is all having on your speaker cones the disk ends abruptly.
Although structurally their array of sounds is minimal: mainly fading gradually in and out and over and under each other, Jenks Miller’s and Nicholas Szczepanik’s considered and careful manipulations inject a sense of dynamism that suggests complex hidden forces from both inner and outer space.Russell Cuzner