On their debut full-length, Last, Ohio’s Saintseneca positioned themselves as folk and Appalachia revivalists of a certain celestial stripe. Zac Little’s top-line influences were not terribly hard to guess at, even for non-specialists such as myself: in his emotive, sinusoidal singing and its odd half-Brit inflections, the unmistakable stamp of Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel) and Colin Meloy (the Decembrists); in his oblique and ecstatic poetry, his fishing after the deep image, the brand burned by Connor Oberst (Bright Eyes) on a generation of bards; in the haunted hootenannies of the arrangements, a little bit of that Brit-folk thing – You-Know-Who & His You-Know-Whats – but also the my-sad-year-in-a-cabin obsessive do-it-yourself layering of Bon Iver and the accumulating church-sanctuary reflections of Fleet Foxes’ gorgeous debut.
Nobody is a list of influences. Reference maps are only one of the ten critical ways to describe music, as detailed in my not-so-forthcoming book by that name. But you get the point. Last was a spirit-folk orgy, and one with some pretty sturdy songs underneath all the great-barn-in-the-clouds gesture, enough substantial composition to bear the weight of ambition without buckling much.
Like another recent BSP alumnus, the luminous Texas progressive folk band Midlake, Saintseneca’s “next move” involved enlisting a name producer – Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes and Monsters of Folk – and, in short, introducing a lot more electricity and all the cultural content that comes with it. But you wouldn’t know it from the onset of Dark Arc’s opening track. “Blood Bath” comes on like a mostly solo, hill-folk overture with a live-in-one-room quality and some remote gang vocals and syncopated hand-clapping. It’s a direct extension of Last that literally melts down at 1:10 and reforms as driving, double-time indie-rock spiritual that sounds a lot like Neutral Milk Hotel’s “The King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 3.” “Blood Bath” sets the volatile and desultory tone for the rest of the collection. Not all, nor many, of the songs are quite so schizo in and of themselves, but the texture is.
The delicious “Happy Alone” is a straight two-chord, one-gear melodyfest that could have been a hit for Saintseneca’s statemates Guided by Voices. “Uppercutter” channels Cobain with a serpentine melody over an evenly spaced four-chord pattern…before going very elsewhere. The quiet miracle of this record, as exemplified by the title track and many others, is this: No matter how smashed the drums, how thunking the electric guitars or how psychedelic the atmospherics, that old spectral hootenanny that was Last, that is Saintseneca, is always there if you want it.
Saintseneca, O-Face & Darling Czar, Friday, November 7, 9 p.m., $8, BSP Kingston, 323 Wall Street, Kingston; www.bspkingston.com.