Distant Reader makes delicate and finely wrought folk music, guitar and vocals painting spidery patterns across a dark backdrop of negative space. Think a marriage between the emotive and fragile lo-fi folk that The Antlers made pre-Hospice with the elemental atmospherics of Lost Tribe Sound releases. It’s unsurprising then, that his debut album, Home Power, is being released on cassette by Lily Tapes & Discs, a label that has made it’s name in releasing carefully-crafted and emotively textured ambient and bedroom folk style tapes.
The bio says Anklam made this record aged 21, which is pretty amazing considering it’s well-written and patient nature, the vocals ranging from almost-whispers to urgent cries, the lyrics constantly poetic and driven with a sense of meaning. Opener ‘Agreement’ begins with building guitar that sounds like an approach of rainstorm, a great introduction to the ebb and flow of Distant Reader’s songwriting, as if they’re influenced by atmospheric patterns or the pull of the moon rather than traditional song structures. ‘Chairs’ has a similar, quietly turbulent vibe, recalling Keaton Henson in its sparse arrangements and vulnerable vocals, while ‘Life Believed in Itself, Finally’ is another meandering and ruminative folk song. It’s a great example of the thematic drive of the album, as Distant Reader explores a vast array of emotions and relationships with unerring sincerity. The cover, a photograph of an old plastic lawn chair in the process of being overcome by greenery, seems somehow fitting, Anklam’s music capturing the lives of him and his loved ones as a symbiotic ecosystem. Here, each individual helps the other adapt and grow, to flourish despite any obstacle (even a metaphorical lawn chair) that might get in the way.
“Now I’m changing the verse you wrote when you were 15
and I still don’t know anything
but now I see in this room you’re staring ahead
To where you will be
and for a moment life believes in itself finally”
A major influence was one of the true greats (and our very favourites), Jason Molina. As Anklam explains, “I was listening to Jason Molina a lot while making Home Power, and nothing influenced this tape more than Molina’s push for solidarity and directness with his audience, and his ability to do that without giving in to a mawkish imitation of ‘authenticity’.” However, this isn’t Songs:Ohia-lite (which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing), but rather something that borrows its ethos, Molina’s aura present without the songs becoming mere imitations.
‘Face Blindness and J’ is a great example of this, Anklam’s vocals quavering over squally guitar, an incredible powerful hymn of irredeemable change and loss (“It takes a long time to come around to the fact that every light goes out / and it takes even longer to learn all the ways that the spark in an eye can die down”). The track builds in intensity, the vocals swaying like tongues of flame at the centre of things, kindled by the bubble of empty space that surrounds them, eventually catching and spreading in burst of energy as Anklam’s cries rise and flicker in a blaze of defiant emotion:
“But still i don’t want to hear
there’s only so much i can hear
but i hear everybody’s doing fine or almost everybody’s doing fine
and i know someday everybody will be doing fine
or almost everybody will be doing fine
but it depends on how you define fine
i try to remember how you were
when i thought you were happiest
but I’m getting older and the distance is farther
and it’s getting harder”
There’s a muffled dreamy quality to ‘Shell’, Anklam’s voice rising through the cracks in the floorboards and gathering among the rafters like a ghostly fog, before the multi-layered ‘With’ peaks in howls of devotional fervour. The album then ends on ‘First Try’, which brings things back to the relatively simple arrangement of guitar and voice. The song is a distillation of the themes of the album as a whole, Distant Reader weaving a dense web of not just personal reflections, but reflections on the lives of those he cares about. Home Power is a deep record, one that withstands, even requires, a lot of thought and rumination, but after repeated listens the key points of empathy and kindness begin to resonate deeply. It’s a reminder that we’re all able to help ourselves and each other, and that we will be better people for both.
“I can say I’m a happy person in a heavy universe
when I put it that way it sounds so contrived.
And I’m not afraid to see you cry,
a little water never made a mess of any life (?),
but I can’t pull you up if you don’t want me to
but I can hold a place for you
You can get Home Power now on cassette from Lily Tapes & Discs, or as a digital download from the Distant Reader Bandcamp page. All digital proceeds will be donated to the National Resources Defense Council.