The theme of healing seems to be appearing a lot recently. Strand of Oaks’ HEAL is an obvious example, and many of the Orchid Tapes and Epoch artists are producing music concerned with reconciliation and regeneration, using sincerity and honesty to address the importance of emotional and physical well-being. Ben Seretan, who describes his self-titled album as “an earnest attempt at synthesizing everything I love and fear into 53ish minutes”, is next in line.
The album opens with the sprawling ‘Ticonderoga’, which sounds like the lovechild of Fang Island and Parts & Labor. Clocking in at just under eight minutes, the track is a suitable flag-bearer for the rest of the album. The only lyric present is the song’s title, a name he repeats over and over with mounting feeling as the guitar and percussion become increasingly agitated. This is followed by ‘Light Leaks’, another seven minute epic that mixes the finger-picked complexity of traditional folk music with a mathy electronic sound. Here we get the first real glimpse at the truth at the heart of the record, a naked sincerity which forgoes being hip or clever or cool in an attempt to communicate openly and truthfully and connect with the listener. The song holds an improbable weight, opening with two simple verses and the refrain of “Hey, it’s all right. Light leaks from under the door”, it seems like the sonic version of the sort of simple but impossibly meaningful gesture from someone which begins to pull you from your darkest hour. Next Seretan delves into repetition once again, and the clear cycle of uncomplicated words means that by the halfway mark the listener is singing along, each phrase swelling in size and feeling, filling that soul-shaped part inside your ribcage that isn’t taken by your heart or your lungs, becoming a chant, a hymn.
“You will be stronger tomorrow
You will be wiser tonight
You will find new love without warning
You will find new joy with every breath”
If ‘Light Leaks’ is the epiphany then ‘Meadowlark’ is the sustained attempt at being well, a slow-burning new dawn that demands with a country rock swagger, “Put your might in something good. Sing out with the Meadowlark”. Lyrically, ‘Blues for Ian M. Colletti’ follows a similarly encouraging theme (“You are a blessing on the world”), but the sound is far more restrained and ethereal, the late night heart-to-heart to ‘Meadowlark’s morning optimism. ‘The Confused Sound…’ and ‘Two Black Wings’ are nostalgic/oneiric returns to ramshackle rock, again using swirling repetition to build atmosphere and emotion, before the final two tracks close off the album with a clear return to the hope and joy that runs through the record. ‘My Lucky Stars’ is short and stripped back, based around the lines “I’m in love with you, I thank my lucky stars for you” and the album ends with ‘Swing Low’, a seven-minute loop of the joyful “swing low, sweet chariot. Coming for to carry me home”.
There are clearly Bad Things which inspired the record too, but these are not the focus. Rather, these Things bring into relief everything we stand to lose, everything worth fighting for, the good and the bright and the beautiful. This is an album that tries to remind us why Bad Things are bad in the first place by holding aloft what is good. Seretan has ECSTATIC JOY tattooed on his chest for goodness sake! To quote him again:
There are lots of [Bad] Things for everyone. You might be going through a Thing right now. I am, for sure. But making music isn’t about those things, exactly. Not for me, at least. It’s about me and my loved ones planting a flag – brilliant, billowing, as wide as a city block and covered in pink and yellow sequins – and letting it unfurl on the stone face of the outcrop.
This is why Ben Seretan is such an admirable record. To write sincerely involves opening up, which is not only icky and messy and embarrassing but also leaves you open to ridicule, the dreaded patronising smirk. Yet the only way to enable real connection is to stand out in the open, trusting that those you meet feel the same way. The only way is not to hide. And let it be known: there is nowhere to hide on the stone face of an outcrop, especially when you are holding aloft a gigantic flag full of sequins.
You can buy Ben Seretan on CD and vinyl via Bandcamp, or grab a cassette from Hope For The Tape Deck. If you want to read more about what the album means then head on over to Seretan’s Tumblr for some rather lovely writing.