Willie Reviews Cross Record’s “Cross Record”

Willie Reviews Cross Record’s “Cross Record”

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Emily Cross’s Cross Record has a new record called Cross Record, and it takes across a prickly landscape recorded by the closest of close mics. It succeeds in its backdrops and its main action, giving equal emphasis to melancholic melodies and out-of-the-blue samples. Here’s RPM’s review:

I had little success finding lyrics for this album, but my kind and beautiful search engine did find me a result called “Fastest tortoise -- Guinness World Records” (ah, the perils of including the word “record” in your band name). His name is Bertie, and he lives in Durham, England. And far be it from me to judge speed in tortoises, but boy, if he wasn’t just shooting along! I wondered if Bertie made the decision to distinguish himself and if he had ambitions to break free from his Adventure Valley home. Was he eyeing a global act, or was his success purely accidental? Beyond that, why would any creature choose slowness when speed exists? That’s a question we can try to answer in tortoises and in humans. So let us shift our focus from Bertie’s enormous quads to a different study in slowness, that of Cross Record.

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Emily Cross’ project Cross Record has a knack for delivering on the spirit of slow. This self-titled album is not sluggish or weak. Instead, it smartly questions the goal of all actions. The object of a life or of a sentence is always unknown, which proves to be a harder nut to crack than the fumbling and unfocused flailing that we humans know so well. The only direction we know for sure is dying, and everything in between is creative conjecture. Hence, why turtles don’t run. The virtue of hanging back imbues Cross Record with an uncommon wisdom—Cross has no desire to be the fastest tortoise.

An appraisal of the vocal harmonies reveals an attitude of futility. Though not immediately clear what it’s pressing toward, the two-voice section on “Hollow Garden” is reminiscent of the deep gloom of Low. It follows the same pattern of presenting a confidently simple melody, but stressing the points of difference rather than similarity. When Cross sings “Hollow garden / give me something / I need the floodgates / to open,” the higher and lower voices move in parallel, then converge once the instrumental comes in. And despite its grammatical setup, this line is not a statement. Unwilling to state, it is much more a plea. The final 15 seconds of the album, at the end of “I Am Painting”, are the most emotionally charged of the whole thing, using two tremulous voices in harmony to restate the two poles of the song. It vacillates between two notes an octave apart, a beautiful yearning motif that addresses the impulse to make plans with the simultaneous difficulty.

Emily Cross, photo by Jackson Montgomery Schwartz

In keeping with the philosophy of slowness and tending never to claim a great knowledge, the instrumentals are scattershot and multidirectional. Like the lowercase music of Steven Roden, where invisible sounds are dialed up and played at human-scale, the crinkling ambience of Cross Record taps into a buzzing, living background. From the first track, “What Is Your Wish,” the textures sound alien and the sources a mystery. Maybe they’re run through a simple distortion, but the result we get appears so minimally processed that it is frightening in its newness. “Sing the Song” reduces the piano and vocals to their treble components, melding them in their common audio bond. Then there are the jumpy dubstep-like beats on “Hollow Garden.” They’re separated by subtle clicks and snaps, part of the larger intentional rhythmic disconnect. I was endlessly searching for the groove on the album despite knowing exactly where it was. “An Angel, A Dove” divides its rhythm in competing intervals, never settling.

Cross Record- PYSOL My Castle

These larger themes of indecision and the protest of action make sense in a world where the individual understands their singular experience in an empty world. Not to be incredibly on the nose, but the album cover is a classic example of this. Out rowing alone, you see everything as an extension of yourself. The reeds are the ones to your right, and the clouds are the ones above you. Cross sings about empty spaces as places of congregation that she’s grown tired of. The refrain in “PYSOL My Castle” goes: “Put your shoes on / leave my castle.” The mental dissonance between experiencing the world for yourself and sharing those same experiences with others is a mental drain, and one that shouldn’t go overlooked. When you wake up from a dream and leave the dream world, you sever a deep connection and are forbidden from bringing it into the world. Those people you spoke to, all extensions of yourself? Gone. Replaced by competing consciousnesses. And then you have to ask them about their day? Why bother? Better to slow down.

Score: Responding to “How was your trip?”

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