Amongst These Splintered Minds//Leaden Thoughts Sing Softly
The Act Of Estimating As Worthless - “Bones”
Last night, the New York-based folk band The Act Of Estimating As Worthless opened a show at Connecticut’s Heirloom Arts Theater – an event that AllAgesCT’s Jack Tomascak billed as “Purchase Invades CT.” Indeed, a number of the bands on the bill were in some way connected to the scene-approved SUNY Purchase, including the excellent indie rock group LVL UP, whose members are all Purchase students.
But even in the well-saturated and musically rich scene at Purchase, The Act Of Estimating As Worthless manage to stand out dramatically. Comprising as few as two members and as many as seven, the band plays an inspiring and affecting brand of folk that is at times both grandiose and intimate.
“Bones,” the opening track from their new full length album Amongst These Splintered Minds//Leaden Thoughts Sing Softly, exemplifies this seemingly paradoxical musical quality to a tee. It begins with a gently plucked acoustic guitar and lonely electric guitar that quietly introduce themselves before allowing vocalist Zoe Grant into the mix. She sings in hushed tones, raising her voice just over a whisper to convey the solemnity of the lyrics, but with a kind of elevated objectivity – “I see you for what you really are,” she sings at the beginning of the song.
However, the real magic doesn’t start until the second verse. The band teases the listener early on with fleeting cymbal washes and bowed bass, instilling a sense of wonder and giving preparation for that eventual musical release. The band’s multi-instrumentalist and second vocalist Matthew Van Asselt, who sings throughout the record often in unison with Grant, enters unobtrusively only to sing the verse’s last two lines, providing just enough musical weight to tip the scales and bring that release to life. The result is one of the warmest, most soothing, and yet most powerful musical crescendos I’ve heard this side of post-rock, with lush strings, horns, and perfectly mixed drums all coming into the fold.
And yet, even as electric guitars enter and the drums become louder and more frenetic in the second chorus, Grant and Van Asselt maintain the same level of volume and emotion in their vocals that they began the song with. The effect is a paradox: A song that simultaneously feels massive and miniscule, epic and earthly, and heavy and heartwarming. It’s a combination that I’ve never seen realized to this effect, and one that The Act Of Estimating As Worthless makes seem easy.
Stream “Bones” above, and download Amongst These Splintered Minds//Leaden Thoughts Sing Softly on bandcamp for whatever price you want to pay.
I have been waiting (I’d like to say patiently, but that would make me a liar) for this album for a good long time and it’s finally here. It is everything that I wanted and more. It makes my heart swell until it feels like it’s going to burst.
sun drops on my skin today kiss me and say that you love me the same as you did on that day that we sat there on swings until some time in the morning when the sunlight killed something i think i knew when you warned me but i still cut off your mouth, and you cut off mine too, and i wept for you i wept for you but for me you weren’t able to
Dirty Dream Number Two - Belle & Sebastian Breathe In - Gregory Pepper & His Problems Circadian Tremors - The Act of Estimating as Worthless If You Are In Love Then Why Are You Asleep - Golden Ghost My Nose - El Hollin Backwards Words - Remambran To Be Objectified - Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard Boom! - Little Wings Ram On - Paul McCartney Angeles (Alternate Vocal Take) - Elliott Smith Last Week - Deadbeat Beat Eighties Fan - Camera Obscura KA - LU - A - Ray Kinney and His Hawiians Ready to Die - The Unicorns Epitaph For My Heart - The Magnetic Fields
The Act Of Estimating As Worthless - Amongst These Splintered Minds//Leaden Thoughts Sing Softly (2012)
“It’s funny, the things we remember”
I think that in general, people tend to get hung up on what they forget rather than what they remember. The misplaced keys, forgotten anniversaries, and unremembered combinations to the high school lockers of our daily lives impact our existence in an immediate sense. We forget because we don’t care – Not about keys, anniversaries, or locker combinations – about the mundanities of the human world. But our world is not exclusively ordinary, and sometimes our minds surprise us with the familiar beauty of even the simplest memories.
The New York-based folk group The Act of Estimating As Worthless thrive in this memory-space. Just as much as they make music with guitars, horns, and sweeping strings, Michael Van Asselt and Zoe Grant make music with memories, drawing inspiration from the potent and universal themes of relationships, aging, and childhood. Theirs is a world of constellations in the night sky, long drives home from the house of your grandparents years ago, and fallen trees in the backyard of your childhood home – And that’s all within just one song. Throughout their new record Amongst These Splintered Minds//Leaden Thoughts Sing Softly, The Act of Estimating As Worthless opens up and explores this world, illuminating the world of the rest of us along the way.
Memory is certainly a major subject of the album, most notably of course on “The Things We Remember,” but also more subtly on tracks like “My Left Thumb,” a quiet piece in which Van Asselt pines about holding hands with a former lover. "My left thumb goes on top when I weave my fingers together,“ he sings, "and I can’t remember whose thumb went on top when our hands were together.” Coupled with occasional bursts of nostalgic imagery, this kind of quaintly simple poetry constitutes most of the album’s lyrics. The lyrics themselves are conveyed by either Van Asselt or Grant, or the combination of the two of them, who often sing in unison on the album. Collectively, they sing in murmuring, deadpan tones, producing an effect somewhere between a less depressing Carissa’s Wierd and a less insipid Moldy Peaches. When they sing together, as on the lilting waltz “A Few Paces Behind,” their voices strike a balance between childlike whimsy and the bittersweet feeling of retrospection, just as their lyrics do.
This intimate and unhinged vocal style creates a curious contrast with the music. The majority of the songs on Amongst These Splintered Minds… begin rather humbly with a verse or two of simple guitar picking, but almost all of them soon build up into something more expansive. The opening track “Bones” and “No One On The Road” create especially powerful crescendos – grand, sweeping instrumental movements with bowed bass, violins, and multi-part horn arrangements that lift the listener off his feet and up into the ether. Other tracks utilize toy pianos to great effect, while “Massive Windows” and “The Things We Remember” feature distorted guitar leads that sit perfectly above the lush acoustic mix below them. For a group of college kids making folk music, the production on this album is really excellent, and demonstrates an impressive awareness of space and dynamics.
Like a dusty old photo album in the attic of your parents’ house, Amongst These Splintered Minds//Leaden Thoughts Sing Softly is an album that will make you laugh, smile, reflect, and maybe even cry a little. But even though it is a deliberately nostalgic album rooted in musical traditions of the past, it presents itself as one of the boldest and most exciting folk records I’ve heard this year. I don’t think I’ll ever cease to be impressed with what young college kids can accomplish, and this record validates that.
The Act of Estimating as Worthless - Amongst These Splintered Minds // Leaden Thoughts Sing Softly The gears are turning slowly but surely. We began working on this project in October 2010, and we are finally almost on the home stretch. We hopefully be finished early this fall. The twelve songs are almost entirely tracked, and the packaging is designed, printed, and ready to be assembled. This will be a fairly small edition, only 50-75 cassettes will be made. We will also be printing limited runs of two silkscreen prints for this project, based on the on the drawings that were made for the album artwork. Here you can see some photos of the process - many mock-ups, and a glimpse at the final product (the big dark blue sheet above the little booklets). The next two or three months will be spent touching up recordings, mixing, mastering, sewing books, and folding and glueing cases. The production is being done by Mike Ditrio, and the package design and artwork is by Matthew Van Asselt. In the meantime, you can listen to and download 4 demo versions of songs from this release by visiting the band’s bandcamp page here: http://theactofestimatingasworthless.bandcamp.com/