One of the major elements of the postmodern art movement is deconstruction, which, according to Wolfgang Funk’s latest book, intended to “demonstrate and enact the autonomy and solipsism of each constituent factor… in the act of cultural and literary communication.” Which more or less means that every piece of postmodern art tried to communicate just how false and incomplete artistic communication is, a paradox which must have frustrated even the staunchest PoMo figures. Luckily, it’s more or less accepted that we’ve passed into a new post-postmodern age (though we’re going to need a better name) with a rather different intention – reconstruction. In something of a shift towards hope and sincerity, reconstruction is an attempt to close the very holes revealed by deconstruction, thus reviving the connections between writer and reader and opening up “new depths in artistic representation in a reaction against a kind of flatness or depthlessness”.
The reason for the lit theory lesson is Hands in Our Names, the new album from Tuscon’s Karima Walker. Following on from last year’s Take Your Time, a folk release with drone flourishes, the new record sees Walker push further into experimental territory, utilising field/found recordings along with significant drone to create something which sits at the interface of singer-songwriter and avant-garde music.Opener ‘What is Left?’ sets this out. An open-world hiss is slowly populated by a variety of field recordings which skip and jump and repeat over and over, like the product of some malfunctioning record player, before the clips fall away and allow Walker’s song to start (in a traditional vocals-and-guitar sense). The ambient textures are ever-present in the background, and the briefest echoes of the recordings leech through, ghosts of that which previously occupied the space Walker now inhabits. ‘Holy Blanket’ is simpler though pulls the same effect, the foreground vocals sitting atop of a stack of time in which so much happened, while ‘Bells’ drops the words entirely in favour of click-hum drones which float and flash and fly above a backdrop of the natural world – birds and bees and the great hush of passing time.
The title track is a folk song in the old tradition, an a cappella hymn in which Walker loops her vocals until they become superimposed, the various lines overlapping into an echoed chant, a multi-faceted chorus descending into a hymenopteran drone as heard from within the hive.
“Gather as the dust, laying ‘cross the desert
Pillars of salt that turned to flee
My eyes in turning to my brother
My help does not come from thee”
‘To Carry Heavy Things Alone’ simmers beneath a subdued surface, clear intentions lost in the between-channel fuzz, while ‘Ky By Bo’ flickers forward and back before the entry of Walker’s crooned vocals. ‘We’ve Been Here Before’ opens with distant field recordings, the lonely drone like the slight vibration of air in an empty room, before the emergence of a melancholy folk song. The lyrics are gentle and warm and humane, simple words of comfort and perhaps love, as the ever-brightening background drone morphs into something like the sonic representation of hope. As the track concludes the song fades into static, Walker’s vocals lost to white noise as the listener passes out of range of the transmission, though the ambient note continues, the essence of her message lodged deep in our inner ear.
After the twitching interlude of ‘One Moved Slowly Through This Place’, the slow beauty of ‘St Ignacio’ arrives in a whistle of static, the vocals wide and shimmering across the first significant percussion. Again the mood is melancholic but compassionately so, a strange and tender dream where every action is poetic and perfect and perhaps portent to a future peace. Barking dogs herald the muffled ‘Singing City’, an instrumental which plays like the spectral murmur of an abandoned building, before ‘Indigo’ brings us back into the present with an altogether more hospitable quiet, a place calm and serene yet laced with sadness (“I’m too tired to throw stones / to hold this memory alone / Too stubborn to ask you to come back home”). The album closes on ‘Lullaby’, a song which serves as a neat summation of the album, placing the present as one thread within the dense tapestry of time, a small component insignificant to the overall pattern yet fundamental all the same.
“Sun dried sweat upon your back
sun drew laughing faces
Time will tell what we do lack
children take our places”
Fulfilling Funk’s post-postmodern vision, Hands in Our Names sees Karima Walker reconstruct an array of varied elements into something larger and more meaningful than they could ever be alone. Field recordings from her present and found recordings from someone else’s past swirl above and beneath her own words and guitar notes, drones of every pitch filling the background and stretching the songs into worlds of their own. When atomised into separate parts, the album is impressionistic, blurry and strange and difficult to describe, though when listened to as a whole, a blanket of stitches, it becomes something vivid and intuitive. As such, Hands in Our Names is able to convey things normal songs cannot, a freedom not just born of trope-avoiding experimentalism but somehow inherent in the very combinations of sounds, as though arranged into secret patterns or codes, magic spells that trump postmodern convictions. Rather than dying in open air upon leaving her mouth, Karima Walker’s communications bubble from within, stirring that dormant empathy that lies somewhere near the centre of us all.
Hands in Our Names is out now and you can buy it from the Orindal Records Bandcamp page, including on some rather lovely cassettes. Walker is playing a release show tonight (June 30th, 2016) at Tuscon’s Exploded View, and then heads out on a tour of the southwestern states. Check out the full dates below:
6/30 Tuscon, AZ @ Exploded View
7/1 Bisbee, AZ @ Silver King
7/2 Las Cruces, NM @ Art Obscura w/ Our Friend the Mountain & Ehran Krauel
7/3 Albuquerque, NM @ Ocotillo Room w/Chicharra & Ermine
7/4 Santa Fe, NM @ Ghost w/Glitter Vomit, AJ Woods & Will Schreitz
7/5 Taos, NM @ Mesa Brewing
7/6 Colorado Springs, CO @ Welcome Fellow w/TBA
7/7 Boulder, CO @ The Forge w/Cy Phi, Luna May & Gardenhoe
7/8 Denver, CO @ House Show w/Boat Drinks
7/9 Grand Junction, CO @ TBA
7/11 Moab, UT @ House Show
7/12 Salt Lake City @ Diabolical Records w/tba
7/14 Nampa, ID @ Flying M
7/15 Boise, ID @ Studio 208 w/With Child & Spiritual Warfare
7/16 Baker City, OR @ Lone Pine w/Shannon Gray