Good morning ~
I’ve had a lot more time lately to listen to records. I’m now working semi-remotely at my day job (which before this week I resented having, now I feel like an asshole) and my desk set up is right next to my turntable and my collection of LPs. It’s been a lovely highlight of being mostly indoors, listening to music this way. But, you know, you have to flip the records every so often, and I keep finding myself getting too focused on an email and letting the record run out. Minutes go by, sometimes a half an hour, and I don’t notice that scratchy, repeating sound of the needle circling the last, silent, locked groove. That mechanical sizzle. Eventually I’ll realize that songs are no longer happening, just this hypnotic noise, and so I stand up to lift the needle. As soon as it breaks contact, I’m there, standing in a silent room, feeling the air no longer moving. Noticing.
The first sound you hear in the (very long) track this week is the runout groove, I believe of an old Ahmad Jamal album. Then some extremely washed out electric piano fades in. As the track moves along some needly synth drones slowly seep in. But the track is so long, and the analogue synthesizer I used to make them is so temperamental, that as the song progresses, the drones go subtly but steadily out of tune. By the end they’re playing nearly other notes entirely, which wasn’t my intention when I made this long piece. I wanted to make something nice to listen to, and it is that, but it’s also unnerving and grows more so as time goes on. I hope that’s not too on the nose.
The picture up above is from a run I took around the Highland Park Reservoir earlier this week. I love it up there - I love seeing a body of water, I love looking out from the high ground. The sunset there on Tuesday was particularly grand, I almost felt guilty experiencing its majesty.
This is the first time in forever I don’t have gigs to promote. Normally I would say, oh I have this very special thing coming up - I even mentioned one last week, naively thinking it was actually going to happen that following Saturday. I have no gatherings to invite you to, no shows planned in my living room. I also can’t go dancing, really, anytime soon, or really even use the gym. A lot of my more reliable sources of joy are not currently accessible (there are others, though - thank god for big group video chat and roommates and cooking for yourself three times a day). Last week I felt tremendous promise. That Pitchfork review (here, if you missed it) filled me with optimism - that’s not the type of coverage I’ve previously enjoyed, it felt tremendous. I thought (as I wrote) hey, we might really have something going here. I thought, hey, maybe I could quit my job (good thing I didn’t), maybe I could really have some time to do music, maybe I could tour all the time. I have a lot of time now, but no, I didn’t want it like that. I’ve barely touched a guitar since coming indoors, I’ve barely sang. And who knows when music - in the gathering way that we like it - will be possible again (never again will I ever complain about a band starting late on a weeknight or a twelve dollar cover, I swear it). Although we did one live stream, maybe we’ll do some more.
Here’s what I can say:
-Youth Pastoral is still streaming, of course, and as of this writing I am still mailing out copies (although I’m pretty behind on that at the moment). If you like the record, please don’t be shy in sharing it or telling your friends. I’m not sure how to get fresh ears listening to it without the normal music infrastructure in place, so I think I gotta rely on people sending it to each other on the Internet now. It’s not a priority in like a world event kind of way, really, but I’d appreciate your continued engagement with this thing that I (and more importantly many other people) worked on. Here’s the best place to listen and buy: https://benseretan.bandcamp.com/album/youth-pastoral
-Our label - Whatever’s Clever - has a bunch of rad shit coming out, despite not being able to do shows. I wrote about it for the second-ever installment of the Whatever’s Clever newsletter, which you can read and subscribe to here. I hope you can join me in being really excited for this slew of new and wonderful music. Also, Bandcamp - our preferred music selling vendor - is waiving its fees on Friday, so that’s a great time to pick some stuff up if you’re interested.
Also - I’ve seen a few people suggest that they should support me as an artist they enjoy during an uncertain time. I’m appreciative of the thought - and I’m lightly in debt from putting out my album just now - but I want to dissuade anyone from thinking that I am in any way in desperate need of financial assistance. I am doing just fine - my day job has continued, I have money coming in and food in the fridge. There are many, many other musicians - and people of all stripes, for that matter - who are, well, completely fucked. I’d much rather any mutual-aid-type funding go towards those folks (and if there’s anything I can do, including a throwing you a few bucks, please let me know). I’d encourage you to listen, to notice - there are certainly people in your life right this moment that could use a hand navigating the next few months. Some will ask for help explicitly - they’ll drop their venmo in an email or something - but others lack the boldness to say it out loud. Listen closely, because so often someone is saying something to you with words other than what they’re trying to get across.
Absence is really what I’m experiencing right now, in a profound way. An absence of people, an absence of physical intimacy, an absence of routine. An absence of the reliable avenues for feeling joy. An absence of my partner - my girlfriend is currently in North Carolina, unsure of where she actually lives and reasonably spooked to come into NYC anytime soon. The streets are absent of strangers, and I assume the subways are absent of bodies, of noises. But in the few moments of profound levity I’ve felt in the last week or so I have felt so much rushing back, too, really a deluge of warmth and affection. I’m scared for the far-reaching implications but I also can’t help but be at least a little optimistic of the world that emerges after. Bolder, kinder, tighter circles and fiercer recognition of the cracks in the walls.
I’m glad to have this Thursday morning routine - a bit of normalcy in an otherwise completely surreal situation. I hope that this landing in your inbox feels familiar and reassuring, making the track and writing to you certainly has been for me. Although I can’t help but notice that it is unstructured, much more so than usual. Coming apart at the seams a bit. I think that’s all I’ve got for you, though - I’m starting to freak a bit about having to go into Manhattan.
How are you holding up? Do you need some money? Are you calling folks more frequently? Are you holding court over video chat? Are you disinfecting your mail? Can you believe it? Are your folks actually staying inside? Are you alone with your thoughts and feelings for the first time in forever (I imagine Indiana Jones pursued by rolling boulder)? Is there somebody who would be concerned if you didn’t check in once in a while? Are you well? Are you trying to exercise? Are you catching up on sleep? Are you weathering, are you weathered?