Lore City: their sounds of ancient memory

Dark forest at night

Records: Kill Your Dreams (2014)
Alchemical Task (2020)

Even pine trees drop their
Needles they give
You the slip / Underfoot
Brown and lifeless river
Beds recede and the
Deepest lakes
Turn to dust

from the song, “It’s All Happening,” onAlchemical Task” (2020), by Lore City
The band, Lore City, in silhouette
Lore City (photo courtesy of the band, used by permission)

Some bands don’t come to us — we have to go to them. When a recording artist takes an exploratory or metaphysical stance with their songwriting, very often their vocabulary is a work in process, as they develop, record by record, to fully articulate their artistic perception. Traditional language and structures often don’t work for these creatives — inadequate at best, limiting at worst. This process, on first listen, creates a tension that might be felt as esoteric or even exaggerated. However, through this kind of evolution and over time, this new articulation comes to be seen (and heard) as fitting, even necessary. Portland-based Lore City (Laura Mariposa Williams and Eric Angelo Bessel) is such a band. And the story of this verbalization on their forthcoming record, “Alchemical Task” (October, 2020), begins with “Kill Your Dreams (2014).

Like some of their acknowledged influences, bands as diverse as Radiohead, Joanna Newsom, Michael Gira/Swans, Quicksand (I could add an equally compelling case to be made for Lisa Gerrard/Dead Can Dance, Mazzy Star, and even Sigur Rós) — some, like Gerrard, have created their own language to say what they need to say, even if we can’t initially recognize the structures and vocabulary. Cycles and repetitions build on one another across each record. The ultimate meaning becomes emotional rather than literal — metaphor becomes the complex pathway to the sensation of the literal.

We all want answers. But sometimes the best we can achieve through art is a series of well-framed questions. Sometimes in life we hide as much as we reveal. Within each lyrical repetition, song by song, with every bold experiment, some artists throw down the challenge — we will only expand our mutual understanding through something that both feels modern as well as mysterious and ancient. It’s a paradox, and investigation doesn’t always solve it. A band like Lore City has set its course using some of these older sources, and keeps its own counsel — they “tune in and transcribe.” Our reward comes from relaxing into this paradoxical and contradictory space, what Kierkegaard called the “passion” of thought.

Kill Your Dreams (2014)

Kill Your Dreams LP art
Lore City (Bandcamp)

Lore City begins their “Kill Your Dreams” (2014) with a challenge: “Go back to the old haunts…,” from the opening track, “Gone Past,” (the longest track on the record), as if, like detectives, we have to look at the evidence first before we decide. The year 2014 seems like such a long time ago, as indeed it is in the firestorm of 2020, which gives the listening experience of these songs today an uncomfortable, post-prescient quality.

Many of the eight songs on this record feel like time travel — warnings or laments — from a time when it might have been easier to tune out the terrible noise. From the 2014 vantage point, as lived today, maybe “Kill Your Dreams” is less about the death of “dreams,” perhaps, than about the death of nostalgia, perhaps even more… the death of any illusion that the past can ever be better than it was. In the song “Gone Past,” if there is any hope, it “…lies in cycles…” — timeless, ancient repetitions, rather than any fixed point of golden memory (or perfection?). We all begin somewhere in the stream of history, good and bad in equal measure, if you’re brave enough to look.

With this long opening set, the real narrative of the record begins with two standout tracks, “Slingshot” and “Hush.” The opening piano of “Slingshot,” like the dawn lifting into a lyrical acceptance of letting go, becomes the place we must begin: “We’re all trying to get away from / the same place….” The surrender in the song is in a spiritual context, not a literal defeat. What we need to give up has more to do with perspective than monetary value. Then, in “Hush,” weaving a plaintive epistle through a spiraling guitar, the message is clear: wealth (or the desire for it?) won’t save you. It’s been an exhausting narrative this past decade — that the one with the most wealth wins — even as everything around us burns. Well, now it’s burning. “Hush” speaks for an entire generation of fatigue.

We hand over words, instruments, and rhythms — trading back and forth until everything belongs to both of us. Until we are indistinguishable.

Lore City (band statement)

What has no value to some, can have great value to others. “Glitter on the Garbage” and “All I Want” shift the focus of this record to a kind of ceremonial acceptance — an honesty about our recklessness. Even as we discard so much of what’s around us, a well-lived life comes from the real moments we allow ourselves to experience. “All I Want” is a paean to the joy of the ordinary: “…Just want someone around / to keep the bed so warm….” Life is lived in real moments, in the present, and not by holding onto shadow memories and fantasy outcomes.

Then, reality sets in harder with “For You” and “Big Intersections,” as it always must. But “Kill Your Dreams” doesn’t end in fatalism, as the title might suggest at first glance. “For You” and “Big Intersections” are more about the ennobling qualities of humanity, and the dignity of shared human experience, rather than dire warnings. “Kill Your Dreams” concludes in a setting where “Alchemical Task” will soon resume. What matters most, in the relentless “passion” of thought, is intentional action, moment to moment, even as every external signpost increases our sense of isolation, dread, confusion, and despair.

It’s worth mentioning the album artist behind the striking image on the “Kill Your Dreams” LP, Kim Keever. His “paintings in water” capture the same temporal beauty, visually this time as Lore City does lyrically — the vanishing in the fleeting, fluid moment — in thought and in action, like in all of our lives written in the flow. There is a purpose behind every move in the ephemeral panorama of Lore City’s lush narratives.

Lore City Band photo
Lore City (photo courtesy of the band, used by permission)

In early October Lore City will release “Alchemical Task.” The one advance track available on Bandcamp, “It’s All Happening,” at almost 10 minutes, with only six tracks to be included on the new record, suggests Lore City is shifting their mediations to longer running times, allowing their conjurations to spool out farther. Even without the full record in hand, the journey is a familiar one.

“It’s All Happening,” taking almost six years to complete, was finished at the band’s new home studio in Portland. “The album’s title,” according to Mariposa Williams, “…expresses how we are spiritual beings having a human experience… I’ve deepened my belief that we are all one consciousness, experiencing life subjectively.”

Alchemical Task (2020)

Alchemical Task LP art
Lore City (Bandcamp)

Once again, Lore City has selected an artist for the “Alchemical Task” LP artwork, Nancy L. Greco, whose work seeks to explore similar questions about existence and values, in this case an almost classical representation expressing a desire to “regain paradise.” Greco’s drawings merge seamlessly with Lore City’s archetypal searching. Greco’s drawings are also metaphoric and ethereal — the “Alchemical Task” jacket appears as a gravestone-like symbol surrounded by human, plant, and animal forms — totemic and symbolic — all life as a shrouded infinity.

“Alchemical Task” appears to be poised to extend Lore City’s narrative begun in 2014, made sharper and more urgent by the very real reminders all around us today — there is much to “transcribe” in 2020, even as the subjective (and politicized) outcomes are still being written, and the spiraling costs in lives and treasure, are being tallied.

We create from the belief that we are all one, and that we’ve been here before. Song fragments are shimmering all around us, ready to transport. We tune in and transcribe.

Lore City (band statement)

Buy the album

photo credits
(where not otherwise credited)

“Memory forest” / photograph by Wilqkuku on Shutterstock
“Old cottage” (footer) / photograph by Sheldon Currington on Shutterstock, design done by GP using Canva

Old farm house