Art is subjective, and its impact on us is unique to the individual and the way our brains absorb it. That’s why people have favorite songs and bands and albums and labels because what those entities do happen to work better on our psyches than some others. It always feels weird to me as a writer who is to remain objective to have favorites, but I’m human and I love music that makes me feel something.
One of the most important bands to me the last decade is SubRosa, whose content swept over me emotionally, musically, and philosophically and became a constant go-to when I needed something, anything to feel a pulse. A trip with four closer friends to see them in NYC several years ago stands out as one of the best weekends of my life. The band’s dissolution in 2019 was gutting, and though they promised other projects, the emptiness was deep and real. However, three years later we get “Folium Lumina,” the debut record from The Otolith that formed from SubRosa’s ashes. Four fifths of that band—violinist/lead vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/vocalist Kim Cordray, drummer/percussionist Andy Patterson, and guitarist/vocalist Levi Hanna (he was in SubRosa from 2014-2017)—form the core of the Otolith along with bassist/vocalist Matt Brotherton, and they continue to operate in that atmospheric doom headspace that gets a little dirtier and sometimes more psychedelic on an excellent six-track debut that takes on a new life with every listen. If you’re skeptical, don’t be. It’s not a SubRosa record, nor should it be since it’s a whole new being. But there’s enough of that factor to reconnect the canals to your heart and so much more that goes beyond any hopes and expectations that you know you’re dealing with a new animal entirely. An exciting one that sends you on a different path to your dreams.
“Sing No Coda” opens the record elegantly and urgently, birds cawing as the strings rise, the branches slowly budding. Pendleton’s vocals are compelling and sweltering, the power gusts as every element comes to life, breathing a familiar but new energy. Everything swoons and then jars, the cello eases into the room and then things get thicker as the storming comes down harder now, your adrenaline working to keep you safe and alive. Burly power connects, the doomy waters rise, and wordless calls echo off into the distance. “Andromeda’s Wing” feels instantly psychedelic but then the charges bend and break, sludge collects in veins, and vicious howls drive daggers into the earth. Later on, the singing returns and aches, and everything melds together and sparks a Celtic spirit, prodding and fluttering. Higher vocals bring a new dynamic, and then things land even harder, the wild shrieks penetrate your mind, and the final surges jet off into the sun. “Ekpyrotic” brings taunting guitars and impossibly dark clouds as the strings connect in a tornadic gust, and throaty howls deliver seismic strikes. The playing unloads as the doomy spirits haunt in unison, thrusting through your organs, bringing dramatic swelling that pushes your heart. A fog collects and loosens, the playing begins to hulk again, and everything merges into one whole, dissolving into time.
“Hubris” eases into the picture as if from a vision, slowly melting as the vocals float in air, bringing energy that feels foreign but not unwelcome. The mood continues on that path until the ground ruptures, the blood flows, and the breathtaking display in front of your eyes and worming into your ears transforms you. Storming howls decimate, the playing waylays, and the earth beneath you ripples, fading into the edges of a dream. “Bone Dust” dawns with sounds rumbling, the hint of something profound on the horizon, and that promise later is kept. The band takes time to build the ambiance, feeling crackles and jolts going through your body, heartfelt vocals working on your emotions and making you breathe deeply. The playing continues to darken and seems to be setting the stage for something, that being the Charlie Chaplin anti-fascist speech from the 1940 movie “The Great Dictator,” a scene that this world needs now more than ever. Or at least since the time it initially was delivered. The music builds with the delivery, starting softer and more vulnerable and then roaing into a firestorm, Chaplin’s words spitting from his mouth, with his final call to, “Unite!” echoing off into the world to be absorbed. “Dispirit” closes the album with a quiver, the guitars chiming, the strings icing wounds, the singing making your heart pulsate. Momentum swells and crests, the howls decimate mountains, and the fires rage and give off thick smoke that waters your eyes. Keys drip, cold weather gasps its first, and static spits, ending this first adventure with noise fuzz and birds returning to repeat their messages.
SubRosa’s existence and spirit was wholly unique and incredibly special, and it’s unfair to expect the Otolith to be able to duplicate that. But they do, yet they also create their own DNA with “Folium Lumina” as they strike out on their own journey that’s connected to their past but also driving joyously and ominously into a new future. This record is an incredible start, a document that feels different with every listen as it develops its own identity. The Otolith scratch an impossible itch we didn’t think was reachable, yet here they are, uniting with us again in a fresh and exciting way.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/otolithic/
To buy the album, go here: https://www.bluesfuneral.com/#https://www.bluesfuneral.com/search?q=josiah+we+lay+on+cold+stone
For more on the label, go here: https://www.bluesfuneral.com/