Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter 'Like, Love, Lust and the Open Halls of the Soul'
2007 Southern Lord Records (SUNN 89)
Like the shuffling ivy-creep of childhood fright movie Day of the Triffids, Jesse Sykes' unmistakeable whisper is not only haunting, but on occasion it can be most unsettling. Listening to one of her albums is kind of like easing into that perfectly drawn hot tub, only to find that a rogue plant vine has clutched at your ankles and has nothing but the purest intention of death and destruction on its mind.
On this the year of the great lady's fiftieth birthday, and with "Like, Love, Lust and the Open Halls of the Soul" reaching its tenth year since its remarkable conception, it's only fitting that a tribute -and perhaps a reintroduction to this sweeping masterpiece- be made.
The otherworldliness of tracks like 'LLL' are what makes this album so special. The song ebbs and flows with a tremolo-soaked warp underneath spectral lyrics that leave the listener feeling lush and at the same time, awestruck. It's the whimsy and wonder that's weaved beneath the dark-folk undertones that provide an air of intrigue, something that the crafty Jesse Sykes purges from her soul with masterful precision.
'The Air is Thin', eerie, wavering and brittle, symbolises Sykes' desperate state of aura as the song's protagonist. In a suffocated whisper that really does seem to running out of oxygen, the repeated refrain of "the air is thin, oh, the air is thin..." almost leaves the listener in a state of claustrophobia despite the songs obvious spaciousness between notes. And that's the ironic genius. The song breathes clearly. Each note fits perfectly within its own territory. But the juxtaposing lyrics, and Jesse, so shaky, so vulnerable, makes this song one ethereal and inexplicable listen.
The fact that "Like, Love, Lust..." appears on Southern Lord records courtesy of Seattle's Barsuk records is testament to the high esteem and respect that Sykes herself is held in. The respect that the upstate New Yorker has earned through years of toil and sweat on an often unforgiving "alternative" circuit, across the entire spectrum of genre, meant that by 2007 the world was her oyster. The great thing about Jesse is that she possesses an extremely rare discipline in a ravenous music world; only when she feels that the time is right, when she is ready, will she record. There's never any pressure from whatever label she might be on at the time, they are just happy to have her. The fact that her last recording, 2011's 'Marble Son' was already six years ago, means that each one of her sparse recordings are precious. A gift from her to us. Like 'Marble Son' -a different kettle of fish altogether- 'Like, Love, Lust...' is most certainly a treasure worth protecting.
Ghostly in its spiritual demeanour, 'Spectral Beings' takes the listener to a whole new plain. Unlike the previous track, this track is airborne. It's flighty and spacious and quite frankly a relief after the chest-tightening, closed-coffin sound of 'The Air is Thin'. The unleashing feeling is palpable and despite its remarkable journey thus far, only signifies the halfway point of an album that is not only vastly underrated, but is seemingly forgotten in a world of digital mass production and over-produced churn.
The favour must be done by you. The choice is yours. Life is fine, yes, some might even say it's grand. But the accepted sadness of this remarkable piece of musicianship, twelve tracks of pure emotive bliss, is something that everyone must have in their lives, even for the most brief of occasions. If you only listen to this album just once, the favour is deeded. For then, and only then, will you be able to accept all other emotion from a ground zero point of view.