Evil-living like it, sounding like it, being it-was something akin to the Holy Grail of Old Weird America. Even today, listening to Harry Smith or Goodbye Babylon or the Secret Museum of Mankind, the sensation is more physical than intellectual, a moonshine chill coursing through your lymphatic system, the mingled smell of blood and wet leaves rising out of the earth in tiny, invisible particles. You don’t get into this kind of music; it gets into you. Like whiskey, it’s the infective, curse-like quality of the really good, ancient stuff that distinguishes it from any number of fresher, younger, endlessly subcategorized “Folk” brands, kids who think flannel and whispering constitute a workable detour around the crossroads, or that “Freak” -indeed, unspeakable freakiness-wasn’t a fundamental part of the 12-bar equation to begin with. I’m not down with calling any kind of music-making disrespectful, but the late-20th century’s turn towards the easy-listening side of acoustic trad stylings certainly is boring, like if suddenly we started collectively imagining that all jazz sounded like Mel Torme, or that punk rock began and ended with Good Charlotte. Folk is not chill music, it is chilling music. And, more so than virtually every other contemporary folk artist, from the catelepsy-inducing boredom of Iron & Wine, to the fey shenanigans of the Decemberists, to the woolier tendencies of Devendra and Wooden Wand, Blaque Boose understand the implicit and electrifying horror of the original craft.
Based out of the Maine hinterlands, Blaque Boose foregrounds the disarmingly eery vocal talents of a woman named Sheena Charland and encases them in a dust storm of fingerpicked guitars, cavernous flutes and some fairly aggressive tape-mangling. The effect is more darkly hallucinogenic than psychedelic, like the middle hours of an endless acid trip initiated in a trailer park and moving ever closer to the busted speaker a secondhand, static-spitting wireless radio. There are no good vibes here, just the aural history of a lifetime of bad lovers and mental health problems. It’s great, like Throbbing Gristle dismantling the myth of America from a fallout bunker filled with strange, rural preserves.
What’s interesting about Blaque Boose’s approach to the folksy idiom is how true to tradition it seems without sounding anything like what purists might classify as “authentic.” Sure, some of the staples are here: repetitive, blues-informed song structures; acoustic instruments all over the place; thick banshee harmonies. But when you factor in the infinite overdubs, the cavernous ambience, the electronic malfunctions coursing through the background, it becomes overwhelmingly clear that we’re a long way from the songbook. All the stylistic familiarities here are based on vibe, not sonic mimicry. There’s no fake vinyl hiss. No lyrics about devils and train tracks. No mandolins. Yet somehow, the whole thing captures an unnamable, old-school realness beyond the aesthetic. It’s a demonic authenticity, like the muscle tremors and delusions of the possessed. You only know it’s there when you feel it for yourself.
So let’s feel it. Check out A-side “Winter,” an undulating dirge of acoustic fragments and witchy chanting. Charland’s voice has a deep, mystical quality almost organically suited to the delayed multi-tracking of the lyrics. You don’t imagine the recording technology, but a kind of multi-headed medusa with impeccable pitch and an introspective bent. It’s like being caught in a hurricane in the middle of a haunted pine forest, half-nature and half-magic. The track engulfs you in a thicket of tortured harmonies, a sound collage rendered out of wind and breaking branches and shredded bark. It doesn’t get rawer.
B-side “Past Lives Owen,” a meditation on Charland’s former boyfriend and bandmate, might be what Nico would have recorded had she been raised in a one-room shack in Appalachia with nothing in it but a Wurlitzer and some tape-splicing equipment. Less a song than a kind of supernatural field recording, “Past Lives” makes good on the dark promises of “Winter,” creeping ever further off the well-beaten path of chord progressions and verses towards something more abstract, more entropic, the kind of noise you could imagine emerging from the bored spirits of abandoned farmsteads, the unearthing of something eternal and malevolent. The evil, of course, has always been here, lurking in the shadows, poisoning the drinking water. Blaque Boose, like any archivists worth their microphones, are in the business of preservation.
Past Lives Owen
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem099/02 Past Lives Owen.mp3