When Eric Lindley, aka Careful released Because I Am Always Talking, we began rethinking everything. We found ourselves rethinking the concept and usage of auto-tune in music and as an enhancement for narrative. We began rethinking the home-schooled and home-made artifice in the modern age. And above all, Eric Lindley has forced us to re-examine how we view, hear, and understand today's idea of what a singer-songwriter is or what kind of a narrator they are supposed to be.
So here we are, with an exclusive stream of Careful's new album, The World Doesn't End. Finding release into the world today from the prestigious Circle Into Square, old testament apocalypse books are brought to our common era where the world stays oddly calm, and carries on after a post-calamity crash impact of 10,000 emotional Armageddons. This is what happens after the big cataclysmic catastrophe hits, where the alarm clocks flash the red digital display of '12:00,' all the clocks have been wound back, suddenly everything is back to square one, year zero, and everyone goes about life as if it were any other day.
Having brought you the first listen to the lead off track, “Didn't He Die?”, gossip and rumors of an alleged passing begin the complex album discourse Lindley has laid between himself and a female counterpart created through vocal effects. Past and future are pitted together like the thin line between discontinuity and a new chance, a new opportunity, a chance to start over, and an opportunity for matured dialogues. Lindley's affected and digitally altered feminine other takes the spotlight on, “The Sun is White”, where Eastern strings exude the kind light emitted when looking directly at a sun that burns bright through a dilapidated ozone layer. Motifs of light, winter, and animal kingdoms permeate the electronic heartbeat pulses along the tattered threads of life and love on, “Headlights; Mice-Like-Snowflakes”. “No Title” brings the listener closer to the intimacy and “come over, come over” urgency, where the strings straddle the nature and unfettered universes between acoustic, Southeast Asian instrumentation, new saturations of synthesized sensations. Wilder still is how Lindley controls the dimensions of everything from the delivery effects, the choices of keys, filters, and the challenge of brilliantly coordinating the sequence of timing his own voice being sung in rounds of verse, calls, and self-responses.
Approaching the album's center core, the first chapter of the title track, “The World Doesn't End (Part I)”, takes the duet to the dire and devastating mode of mortality and transcendence. “I tried so hard to make a good mood, but I got tired, I was chewing up the same food, so I'm shocked that your body doesn't disappear when you die, when you die, when you die…” From back and forth of voices, synths melt down “Part I” to heart striking close, as “Part II” contains a tape recorded lo-fi guitar ballad of confessional romanticism made when the power goes out, and the battery operated cassette recorder and hungry-heart remains. Turning the electricity back on with subtle horns and electronic accompaniment, “This Isn't It” drives home the continued existences, time left on this world, and opportunities that still remain with jagged driving production. The life and death continuum continues to be in the foreground on the morose but persistent, “You Will Have To Kill Me”, before “Unicorn” shows us the tragic beauty of multilayered self-made harmonies that update the heartbreak cathedral of classics like, “Our Prayer“. The gorgeous, and stark ruminations on sleep, death, and memory get poured into the metaphysical void on, “Three Little Devils”, where Eric ends the album's cycle with what sounds like an awakening occurring deep within the caverns of Hades, where the supernatural is splashed against the physical and mortal world. Though the world may not end, Lindley fosters these voices, existences, experiences, and narratives that will speak to different listeners in numerous ways, at different points throughout this staggering labor of intense love.
Continuing our conversations pertaining to the ever-evolving world of Careful, Eric Lindley joins us again for a discussion that dissects his new album, The World Doesn't End in terms of the developing the music, plays on mortality, the making of the album, and much more.
Through the process of working through the multi-voice and narratives, how and where did you find these voices in this kind of meticulously created dysphoria with authorial intent?
A lot of the recording was just happy accident—I stumbled on the right settings to make my voice sound like another person, and in spite of incredibly detailed plans and charts and chord structures that I set out for each song, they all sounded terrible when first implemented, so I had to tweak and revise until they felt like they fit into this vague idea I had for a dark, expansive, propulsive tone. It was a little like shaking around a box of puzzle pieces until they just happened to fit together, and some songs needed more shaking than others.
It kind of reminds to me of our recent conversations and what you wrote for us on the usage of auto-tune, and meaning. And now that you have used these tuning-technologies to actually impact and drastically alter the album's narrative and create an alternate voice, not unlike in many ways what Tom Fec does with his compositions and performances with Tobacco and Black Moth Super Rainbow — how do you feel your own ideas about these auto-tune/pitch control, etc have evolved over the years, impacting this apocalypse-stalemate concept album?
The Tobacco and Black Moth Super Rainbow uses of processing are amazing—the effects are so thoroughly and extremely applied across tracks that it almost feels like the entire sonic landscape is a single distorted, multi-throated voice. Also, there's a nice effect where the electronic processing applies a kind of flattening on the affect of the voice, while the environment takes on these playful, social, human qualities, so the two can meet in the middle with this non-human, human feeling.
Though the application of processing is much heavier in the BMSR work than a lot of other examples of vocal processing, the overall effect is ultimately pretty nuanced, going for a cohesive tone, rather than capitalizing on the novelty of a single effect applied in the extreme over some pre-existing form of music. And absolutely, this—and a lot of other music like it—advances the possibilities of effects like auto-tune: more nuanced; more about serving a greater vision; less about out-of-the-box knob-turning—and ultimately, really rich as an experience and in terms of future possibility.
My hope is that The World Doesn't End works both as a fully-fleshed piece of music, as well as a study: another step in the evolution of what auto-tune is capable of—how it can challenge perceived human-ness, emotion, and the disjunct between the narratives of songs, the construct of the performer, and the actual humans who make and perceive all of it.
I feel like the album really revolves around that central and key title track, “The World Didn't End”, parts “I” and “II”. Can you describe the time and progressions it took to create, write, sketch, sequence and draft that kind of an undertaking?
Yes! I totally think of it the same way: that the album hinges on these songs for thematic, stylistic and narrative direction. Multiple perspectives, ghosts, memory, guilt, co-dependence, cruelty (unintentional, intentional)…. all these things, plus a strongly articulated divide between the environments of the two voices, end up bleeding into the rest of the album.
I wrote the chords and melody for the songs in about two days—first the entire thing in one run one night, building it out verse by verse, first singing nonsense syllables over chords, coming together in a clearer and clearer melody and arc through the song, and then filling in the lyrics and editing the overall shape for coherency and just what felt right. I usually use this kind of process with lyrics, where I listen to the shape of the music long enough that it suggests the content for the song, and let it happen in an automatic-writing kind of way, in the context of what I'm trying to build into for the album overall.
In production, I had about four versions of “Part I”, before I honed in on this one—it started out really fast, trying to evoke a club environment (first more distorted guitars, then more fizzy, heavily compressed synths). But it didn't feel right. Then I went in the opposite direction: really strange, languorous, meandering synths that wound around the voices but never really built to anything. I still kind of like that version, but it was hard to get through an entire listen.
“Part II” was supposed to be this big, showstopper of a song—huge orchestration, all the instruments I could get, complicated drums and lots of orchestral instruments. But then while I was making it there was a point that I realized it was just done, that this awkward mismatch between the all-out ambition of the melody “You Will Never Be Alone!” and the staid, mechanical drum beat, sad bumbling french horn, and clumsy-if-earnest, chugging guitar—that this was, for me, way better, way less resolved than the type of release that would happen with a “bigger” song. It started to feel like a proper climax would resolve things too much, would be less tragic, so I kept is smallish, and sad-ish.
All in all it probably took about a week of work apiece for each song to get workable versions (but of course then there were the weeks more of work making imperceptible changes to the mix that wouldn't matter to anyone but me).
We love to talk about the ways you have always embraced and used whatever technology that was available to bring your work to another level, but when you listen to the principle elements on songs like, “Unicorn”, you rely on classical harmonizing arrangements at the center of the song's heart. How do you marry these multi-layered senses of the traditional methods and the ground breaking, that is like, beyond progressive?
I am incredibly nerdy when it comes to just about anything I enjoy, and am particularly so with music theory—when I first learned about how the abstractions of harmony and melody—which could be worked out on paper—could affect my emotional state with such predictable results, I was thrilled. It made me feel like a machine, which was alternately comforting and horrifying, and so in studying the field it was exciting to get more power over the tools to construct essentially emotional technology.
And the nice thing about music theory is that it can attach to any genre (or create new ones). You can stack an 8-part counterpoint according to renaissance voice-leading just as easily (or, difficult-ly?) with a string ensemble as you can with vocoded political speeches or samples of subway brakes screeching (provided they screech with good, clear tones). Most of what made classical music 'classical' is about the social conventions of who was playing the music, who was listening, and what implicit contracts they had when getting together to make art. All the rest: the articulable elements of notes on a page, loudness, softness, when to put the mute in a trumpet—these account for 10% of the end result in a piece, so it's super-flexible to map the known theory (i.e. rules) onto other social contexts, let alone just swapping instruments.
So for “Unicorn” I was really drawn to how sleep, death, memory and longing are represented in song, and they tend to hinge around a particular play around a major key and its parallel minor (especially the oscillation between the major IV and minor IV chords—Roy Orbison's “In Dreams” is a really good example of this). Unlike strongly related keys like the relative minor, which feels natural and dramatic and almost righteous when it borrows chords, the parallel minor feels insidious, like a strange, false world layered on the one we know. It questions perception, almost. And it's all over popular song as well as romantic-era orchestral music. What makes “Unicorn” work for me is that it taps into the original intent of this dream-like trope, while at the same time imposing the uncanny world of the mechanical, 'false' human with the pitch-shifted backing chorus. The parallels between the original references and the intent of the song make the result something more thought out (and hopefully more effective!) than just borrowing for the sake of genre mash-up.
You told us in our last discussion that you may go for a minimalist vibe, or something like that, or maybe not. Can you give us a clue or hint on your what you have been working on since the completion of the album?
Sure! I haven't done too much yet, but I'm trying to limit how many layers I have in songs, so each voice has take on more roles, and hold up more aspects of the music (like putting a melody, chord structure and counter rhythm in the same voice). And then experimenting with having really big gaps too, like a song that's just voice and drums, or voice and bass. We'll see what happens—I feel like I'll sketch out in as much detail as I can, and then it will sound terrible and I'll learn something in trying to make it listenable. I also have a habit of adding parts to solve problems, and I might try subtracting parts instead this time around.
Careful's The World Doesn't End, is available April 22 from Circle Into Square.