Crimson Static #3
Charlotte, NC’s Julian Calendar have been releasing new music over the past several months in 4-song ep chunks under the title Crimson Static. #1 was released in July, and #2 saw the light of day in September. #3 is October’s offering, with #4 set to drop next month. The constituent parts of Crimson Static can be found on their Bandcamp page, along with their excellent début album, Parallel Collage, from 2017.
For the uninitiated, Julian Calendar are an art-rock band, fond of tonal shifts, off-beat, and, at times, orchestral music, all laid carefully and expertly down over an indie rock basis, with the occasionally disjointed voices of co-fronts, Jeff Jackson and Hannah Hundley. The brainchild of guitarist and multinstrumentalist Jeremy Fisher, who writes the music, Jackson, whose day job is as a novelist, handles the lyrics. They are joined by Hundley, who splits vocal duty with Jackson, as well as Scott Thompson (bass, cello, synth), Nelly Anderson (vocal manipulations, loops, synths), and Lee Herrera (drums and percussion).
Crimson Static #3 begins with an almost Eastern vocal progression before the bass and hi-hat start in, and after a drum roll, the song, ‘Dawn Chorus’ begins, with Jackson and Hundley’s almost monotonal vocals, in call (Jackson) and response (Hundley). The song is driven by Thompson’s 80s post-punk bassline, leading the beat around by the nose, even the advent of tremulous guitars cannot keep that bassline down.
As ‘Dawn Chorus’ ends in cacophonous guitars, all goes quiet, and then the first tentative bass chords of ‘Maraca’ begin. As a post-punk guitar, all treble, echoes in the background, going higher, higher, Jackson and Hundley chant their lyrics. One of the things that’s most endearing about Julian Calendar is neither Jackson nor Hundley are traditional singers in any sense. They both have voices that are given to monotonal chanting, though Hundley, in particular, can reach higher registers, and they interplay their vocals, both through call and response, singing over each other, and singing in unison. It’s rare that either of them take the vocals entirely for a song.
‘Numb’ begins with music to induce the feeling, repetitive bass and guitar chords and Herrerra’s drums. The drums tend to be mixed at a point congruous with early Cure, though Herrera is no Lol Tolhurst on the skins, you know, being able to actually play drums. But the crisp sound of the snare and the bass drum are leaden with heaviness, that doesn’t exactly make them sound lethargic, but played deep in a hole, which suits the sound of Julian Calendar. And on ‘Numb,’ the drums, played at almost half-speed, drive the track, which hangs on the beat, the drum rolls, even as a Hookian bassline traverses the beat. The lyrics tell the story of a depressed modern world, Hundley, our narrator, sings the first of these verses, Jackson, the second:
It’s been so long that I forget
What you like me to do
I’ll show off all my scars
If pain attracts you
It’s been so long since I’ve had
the taste of a real kiss
Sometimes I break my own heart
Just for practice.
Here Hundley’s voice is incredibly evocative, her girlish vocals belying the misery and loneliness of her character, who I imagine sitting at the end of the bar, sipping vodka/tonics, smoking Virginia Slims. And when Jackson sidles up to her at the bar, his whiskey & soda in hand, it’s hard to tell who is picking whom up. In a lot of ways, the interplay of Jackson and Hundley’s vocals recall Montréal’s Stars in their heyday in the late 00s, though Julian Calendar is a much more adventurous band than Stars could ever be.
This short ep is ends with ‘This Darkness,’ which is kind of how the world feels right now, as autumn ends and winter approaches and the most high stake election I have ever seen approaching. But that’s not what Jackson is about here, of course, he’s too smart for that. Over a gentle bassline, with some quiet guitar in the left speaker, he intones, one on of the rare tracks to have a single vocalist:
Half past midnight and both headlights gone dead
But I’m driving But I’m driving anyway
This road isn’t dark enough for me
This road isn’t dark enough for me
This road that leads me to you.
And as Jackson drives home to her, down an empty, dark road, his headlights gone, trying to find the road and not veer off the side, the song fades away. And Crimson Static #3 ends.